Grant Tays is the first to admit he looks a little grubby when he's working. Still, the 55-year-old maintenance man never expected to be mistaken for a homeless person.
Last week, Tays was out picking up supplies in his company's truck. Nature called, so he zipped into the Tim Hortons on Notre Dame Avenue to use the facilities.
"The bathroom door was locked, so I asked the girl if I could have the key," the Western Spring and Wire employee explained.
"She said if it was locked, someone was in it and I should just wait. I didn't buy anything. I just went and stood there."
A Good Samaritan overheard the conversation and jumped to the wrong conclusion. He approached the dishevelled Tays.
"He had a $20 bill in his hand. He said he knew things must be tough. He thought I was homeless. He wanted me to take it."
The generous stranger was in his early 20s.
Tays tried to explain he had a job, that he was wearing greasy clothing and had wild-looking hair because he was working and it was windy outside. The kid wasn't buying his story.
"I was all messy and all that. I've got the scruffy beard. I didn't make a purchase. He figured I was homeless."
Tays refused the money.
"He insisted, eh? His friends were there and kind of giving him a hard time. I finally graciously accepted. He gave me a high-five and a thumbs-up."
Tays used the facilities and drove off in the company truck.
"I don't know what his friends said to him, but when I left in a brand-new truck, I didn't want him to think I'd ripped him off. I'm sure his friends taunted him for his philanthropy."
Tays, who owns a house in Elmwood, said his wife thought it was pretty funny he was mistaken for a homeless person.
"She got a charge out of it," he admitted sheepishly.
But Tays said he felt bad the young guy might feel dumb for giving money to someone who didn't need it. He also didn't feel right keeping the cash.
So he had a money order made out to Siloam Mission and dropped it at the Free Press building.
"I want to pay it forward," he said in an accompanying note. "Please accept my $40 money order to be forwarded to Siloam Mission for their fine work as my gratitude, as this is obviously a cause near and dear to this young man's heart."
Tays said the incident renewed his faith in the younger generation.
While the story is heartwarming, it doesn't surprise Siloam Mission communications co-ordinator Mike Duerksen.
"We're really seeing a lot of young people helping out," he said. "We're really seeing more and more young people reaching out and supporting their neighbours."
Duerksen said young advocates tend to use their skills and talents to benefit the mission, perhaps by hosting fundraising concerts. They might not have cash, but they still give.
"People aren't so quick to judge anymore," Duerksen said of the young man's reaction to Tays. "They are becoming more inclusive. I don't think this is an isolated incident."
It's impossible to describe what a homeless person looks like, he said.
"If you came here, you would probably see a lot of people you wouldn't think were homeless and living on the street.
"We call them invisible homeless. They may be working low-income jobs and couch-surfing. People in their lives might never suspect."
Tays said he had his eyes opened to the plight of Winnipeggers with no fixed address and to the simple kindness one stranger can show another.
"Really, he made me think," he said.
If the kind young man spots Tays in that Tim's again, he should sit down with him over coffee.
Something tells me the maintenance worker would be happy to pick up the tab.