At first, Barry Chretien only wanted to help a friend's father in any way he could. Maybe he'd spend a few extra bucks for food.
The West Kelowna businessman was text-messaging late Monday night with a friend who lives in Northern B.C. She said her father, a West Kelowna resident, had run into difficulties, hadn't eaten in four days and that she would not be able to come home and help him for at least another week.
"Like any daughter would, she was just freaking out," Chretien said. "Where she works, there was an Internet blackout. The phones were down, so she couldn't even order him a pizza when she found out."
Chretien tried to calm her down. He told her that he would go to the grocery store in the morning and pick up enough food for her father to eat for a week, until she was able to return to West Kelowna. He emptied his own cupboards and refrigerator of food and stuffed it into a couple of bags.
Then Chretien had an idea. He would call on friends for help through Facebook. He is, after all, the owner of Buzz Media Systems, a social-media marketing business.
"I'm pretty good at social media," he said. "I have about 4,000 friends and a lot of Kelowna people. So I just put it out there and the response was just amazing."
The message Chretien sent: "To all my Kelowna friends. A friend's Dad is down on his luck and I learned last night he has not had any food since last week. My friend is up north working and will not be in a position to help him for another week or so. So I have raided my fridge and cupboards for a few bags of food and I am going shopping for some more this morning. If anyone can donate a bag or two that would be awesome and I can come pick up this morning. Please message me if you can help. Thanks so much!"
One who saw the message was Ami Catriona, marketing and communications officer for Kelowna's Gospel Mission. Catriona answered Chretien's request and collected a package of food for him to pick up.
That was just the beginning.
Chretien says he sent the message at about 8 a.m. Tuesday. By noon, he'd received an avalanche of text messages from people who said they'd be glad to donate food, drink and cash. All he had to do was drive by and pick it up.
"By noon, I had my Jeep full of groceries," he said. "I probably took him about $600 worth. There was cash donations and pledges from my friends in my network. I tallied it up and put in a little more money myself."
Catriona said this was not the first time she had seen social media used to help those in need.
"It's such an important way to connect," she said. "I've got ten e-mails and stuff through Facebook that says, 'Hey, I heard about XYZ person.' And we tell them, 'OK, let's see if we can help them.' Sometimes, it's somebody who doesn't have a coat or somebody needs a pair of boots for a job. That's how we roll here."
When Chretien delivered the goods to the man, the father didn't know what to say.
"He was overwhelmed," Chretien said. "He went from having nothing to having his cupboards full for literally another month or two."
Chretien said the man's daughter was under the impression that he would swing by the grocery store and buy $50 worth of food. He told her what happened.
"Of course, she started to cry," Chretien said. "She was overwhelmed by not only what I did, but the response from others. That's what really moved her."
In this season of giving, Chretien's act and that of many others stand as a symbol of what Christmas means. And in giving to someone who needed it, Chretien said he benefitted as well.
"You put something positive into the universe and they say it comes back to you," he said. "I didn't work that day and I had one of the best days I've had in months."