When Gayle Hardman opened the passenger side door of her Honda CRV on Oct. 4 and saw broken glass littering her seat, she felt a whirlwind of emotions.
“It was a rush of feelings,” Hardman said. “I just wanted to give up. I felt like such a victim. I thought — seriously? What else?”
Hardman, who lives out of her car, had been spending some time in the hospital for congestive heart failure — a condition she didn’t even know she had. While she was there, she got a call about her car, which was in the parking lot of the Sumner Pierce County Library. She found out it had been broken into.
When she arrived at the library, she saw the destruction.
“There was this boulder,” she said. “They bashed the body of the car at the bottom of the window.”
But the smashed window wasn’t the only damage. When she lifted the hood of the car, she saw a big black space where the battery should have been.
It was a rush of feelings. I just wanted to give up. I felt like such a victim. I thought—seriously? What else?
For Hardman, her car isn’t just a means of transportation — it’s her home.
“It was my everything,” Hardman said. “This car saved my life.”
Staff at the Sumner library called the police department about Hardman’s car, and Officer Matt Watson responded. Hardman was visibly upset, he said, and he began to make calls for a mobile mechanic. When no one could arrive that day, he called his friend and the owner of Top Gun Muffler and Brake in Sumner, Neil Dumais.
“Neil told me that if I could get the vehicle to him (that day) he’d do his best to get Hartman’s vehicle fixed that day,” Watson said.
Watson began to make preparations for a towing company. When the worker from Gene’s Towing arrived and heard about Hardman’s plight, he discounted the tow price by half.
After that, the acts of kindness toward Hardman continued.
She’s a very nice little lady. She really didn’t say much, but you could see it in her eyes, how thankful she was for the people that did all of this for her.
Neil Dumais, owner of Top Gun Muffler and Brake
Fixing the car would have cost $400, and Watson said he’d cover the bill. But O’Reilly Auto Parts in Sumner donated the parts Dumais needed to fix the car at a penny a piece, and Dumais’ labor was free of charge to Hardman, too.
“She’s a very nice little lady,” Dumais said when he met her. “She really didn’t say much, but you could see it in her eyes, how thankful she was for the people that did all of this for her.”
In addition, Dumais made arrangements for Hardman to spend two nights free at Sumner Motor Inn. Dumais paid for one night.
Jeannie Johnson, who works at Columbia Bank in Sumner, paid for the second night after she heard about Hardman’s story through Dumais.
“I’m a huge advocate for the homeless,” said Johnson, who has background experience in working to support those facing homelessness and mental illness. “Ever since I was very young and through personal experiences, I’ve been an advocate. I’m hoping that (Hardman) finds permanent housing.”
It really shows that (Sumner is) a pretty tight-knit community. People look out for each other.
Matt Watson, officer at the Sumner Police Department
Along with the two nights, a third donation provided Hardman with a hot meal.
“It restored my faith in humanity,” Hardman said of the donations in her benefit. “I’m very grateful.”
Now, Hardman’s car is almost fixed, save for her passenger side window, which still needs to be replaced. But she’s taking those acts of kindness she received and paying them forward.
At McDonald’s in Sumner, Hardman bought a meal for another woman asking for change and let the woman borrow her blanket and jacket.
“It really shows that (Sumner is) a pretty tight-knit community,” Watson said about Sumner. “People look out for each other.”