Perkasie community unites to help disabled man get to work, food pantry
Marion Callahan Bucks County Courier Times/ USA Today Network
For months since moving to Perkasie, John Gaskin focused on putting one foot in front of the other.
Walking to find a job.
Walking to lug groceries from the food pantry to his Perkasie apartment.
Walking to fight the isolation of living in a new place, far from his mother and all things familiar.
Diagnosed with schizophrenia, Gaskin can’t drive. At night, it gets so dark, he needs the flashlight on his phone to see in front of him. Sometimes when he walks, he prays, asking God for strength. Though he does his best to keep to himself, he’s learned recently that he was never really alone.
Through the window of her Perkasie ice-cream shop, Laura Devlin would often catch a glimpse of Gaskin walking along busy Route 113, cars whizzing by at high speeds as he navigated the narrow stretch of grass sandwiched between the pavement and cornfields.
“I just always saw him walking the same route, so I knew he must be local,” she said.
Afraid for his safety, she wanted to offer him help, but never wanted to stop or startle him. After weeks of seeing him walking, day and night, sometimes carrying groceries, fate stepped in.
“One day, he walked in my ice-cream store asking for the good stuff,” said Devlin, who supplied him with his favorite, cotton candy ice cream, despite knowing he had only coins in his pocket.
“That day, we talked for hours and I got to know him,” said Devlin, smiling as she and her husband Tom Devlin sat next to Gaskin at a picnic bench outside their shop, Hickory Stick. “When John first came into my store, I knew he wasn’t a stranger.”
Helping him, she said, wasn’t just about being a good neighbor. “It’s about having a heart,” she said.
The Devlins offered Gaskin work stocking the coolers once a week, but Laura knew he needed another job and she worried that he would walk day and night until he found one. When she could, she offered him rides to town, to the grocery store and to the food pantry, where he gets the bulk of his groceries. Last month, he was thrilled to find a job as a dishwasher at Perkasie Pizza, but Devlin could not stop thinking of the dangerous trek to and from work.
“I was terrified he was going to get hit,” said Devlin, who knows how scarce sidewalks are along Perkasie’s rural roads.
So she reached out to the Perkasie community, starting a GoFundMe, hoping to secure rides home for Gaskin, especially at night.
“He is the definition of a hustler,” she wrote on Facebook. “… If anyone has some spare time, and wants to do a kind thing, let me know.”
Perkasie gave him much more than a few lifts. The community’s response was beyond her expectations.
The community raised more than $1,300 to secure Gaskin Uber rides, gave him another $700 in gift cards, and people continue to stop by the Hickory Stick with food, toiletries, gift cards and other donations to help him get by. Strangers, who are now friends, began taking him food shopping.
“I thought we’d get $100 to help get John to work a few times; never thought in a million years I would raise that kind of money,” said Devlin, who was encouraged to see so many people reach out to give help and their time.
“Anyone who gets to spend time with John, even for two hours, will see life in a new perspective and won’t take it for granted,” she said.
Tearing up, Devlin said she opened her heart to Perkasie and Perkasie delivered. In a few short months, she said Gaskin has become like family, helping at the store, showing his kindness and appreciation.
One recent day after picking Gaskin up to get breakfast, Laura Devlin said:
“He was so grateful, and kept saying ‘God is so good.’ He’s changing my outlook on life at the same time. Here this guy was walking miles with holes in his shoes and I was complaining some days I had ice cream on my shoe?
“John was walking for a reason; there is a reason we connected.”
Gaskin is 35 and a graduate of Abington High School. He has lived in Bucks and Montgomery counties most of his life, navigating in and out of hospitals, group homes and most recently a Sellersville apartment, which he left because he said people were stealing his food and he felt unsafe.
Though he’s more secure in his new home, it is isolated and located miles from the Pennridge FISH Food Pantry. Before Devlin stepped into his life, Gaskin would walk more than 10 miles a day, heading from Perkasie to Souderton in search of work.
He was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 9 and has often found his disability can be a barrier in searching for jobs. He takes his medication, which silences the voices in his head. He’s grateful for Laura and Tom Devlin, who understand him and whom he now considers good friends.
“Laura is a good friend,” said Gaskin, standing outside of Perkasie Pizza. “Tears come to my eyes. God blessed me. To help a person out with schizophrenia … I prayed to God. Thank you so much.”
Tom Devlin said Gaskin’s story raises awareness of needs in the community that often “don’t come to light.” With the lack of transportation in rural areas, people who can’t drive struggle to find jobs. “Hopefully this will make a change, and we can do more to offer transportation for more people who need it,” said Tom Devlin.
Laura Devlin reached out to Gaskin because she admired his resilience in seeking work. Devlin now knows Gaskin’s boss, Nolbin Cordero, who owns Perkasie Pizza. Between the both of them, they work to get him home safely at night.
Looking at both of them one day, Gaskin said:
“I have good people in my life helping me out. It’s a real blessing from heaven.”
Devlin said she feels just as blessed as he does.
“There are so many people with disabilities and they still deserve a place to work,” she said. “John won my heart over the fact that he’s such a nice guy. John makes you grateful for life.”