Bob Gilbert admits he’s been through the wringer.
The 54-year-old was a stockbroker in Vancouver, chopped firewood on Denman Island, ran a balloon manufacturing company in Indonesia, and became a self-made millionnaire by the age of 22.
That’s when things started to go south. He suffered from a series of addiction issues that led to serious health problems. Gilbert, who has diabetes, had an ulcer that got infected with MRSA, a flesh-eating disease, and he was eventually forced to amputate his right leg.
Shortly after, he moved to Victoria in search of a new life. But it was harder than he imagined, and the next eight years of his life were spent on and off the streets. Most recently, he was evicted from his apartment.
He went down to Rock Bay Landing, which Gilbert said “served the purpose” of giving him a warm bed to sleep in and a meal to eat, but he didn’t feel welcome there.
“People can’t really fathom what it means to be homeless. People in the suburbs think ‘oh, it must be awful,’ but it’s worse than awful,” Gilbert said.
“Your clothes are wet, you smell, you haven’t shaved because you don’t have a razor, there’s no hope and you feel abandoned. You feel left out of the world.”
Then he started going to the Mustard Seed for meals and to use the food bank. The organization has become a beacon of hope for Gilbert.
“They nurtured me through the hard years when I was drug addicted and when I really didn’t care about much,” he said.
Now, Gilbert is getting his life back on track. He’s started a new program called Bottles to Build Lives, which involves selling and collecting bottles at the Bottle Depot. One of the parishioners has even opened their doors to let Gilbert stay with them.
“I finally feel like I’ve found my calling. I’m just trying to do good. I don’t feel like I’m just one man anymore,” Gilbert said. “I have an army of people behind me and that starts with the Mustard Seed.”
Gilbert is one of hundreds of people participating in the Coldest Night of the Year Walk, an initiative started by Blue Sea Philanthropy in collaboration with the Mustard Seed.
The walk is a national event with more than 100 communities taking part to raise money for their respective charities.
In Victoria last year, there were 280 walkers that helped raise close to $25,000.
“The Mustard Seed impacts 5,000 individuals monthly. We impact a diverse group, more so than other charities in the city that are more focused to one group or another,” said Mustard Seed interim executive director Allan Lingwood. “Our focus is food security, but also looking at the wholeness of the person and focusing on more than just the physical need of food and clothing. But looking beyond that to improving one’s skill set, knowledge, ability and spiritual well-being.”
The two, five and 10-kilometre walks take place on Saturday, Feb. 20 beginning at Ogden Point. For more information visit cnoy.org.