Last week, you might recall that the city was hit with a torrential rainstorm that left subway stations dealing with with dramatic waterfalls. The Bedford Avenue L stop was not spared this deluge, with a giant puddle forming right at the bottom of one of the stairs, leaving commuters to navigate their way across the water without getting soaked. In a wonderful New York moment, a man got a plank to help strangers across, and then he kept re-positioning it for hours to make sure it didn't drift. He even held people's hands so they could stay balanced on it, as you can see in the video below.
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UPDATE: Thanks to so many of you, I was able to track down the man from this video!!! Link to the fundraiser is in my bio and on my story — please donate and share 💜 Here’s a beautiful New York moment I happened to witness today: This man helping so many strangers jump across a massive puddle in the subway station. ☔️ It was so heartwarming and selfless, and I know it’s not angry feminist content but it very much deserves to be shared. And if anyone has any info on this man’s name/location, please DM — then we can raise some funds to show him powerful his kindness was🌻 Take some love and pass it on 💌
Jen Winston, writer and creator of feminist social platform GirlPowerSupply, captured the video above of the man, who she later learned is Zahir McDonald. "At first, I started filming because it was a subway disaster, and I thought, 'Oh, this will be exciting to complain about,' but then this man jumped out of the stairwell and started helping people across because the puddle had gotten so big because people couldn't reach the plank."
Winston, who lives in Williamsburg and thought she'd come across him before at the station, was deeply moved by the act of kindness: "I don't normally post good news, it's just so rare these days, so this was such a heartwarming and beautiful moment, I needed to share this with people," she said.
McDonald, 46, told Gothamist that he has been at the Bedford station "just about every day" since 2015. He's currently homeless, and staying at a shelter via the Department of Homeless Services. "It rained real hard [that day], so when I got to the station around 3 p.m., the water had filled the station up from the steps almost all the way to the turnstile," he said. "When I looked at that, I thought there’s no way I can sit here and [ask for] money, and even if I tried it would be selfish of me. People here help me every day—the least I can do is to try to help." He went outside, found a bucket and piece of wood, and started scooping water up, then running up and down to pour it out away from the station. He spent about 2-3 hours doing that, and helping people cross the plank, before the MTA came to clean up the station.
Winston's videos quickly racked up over 50K views, with tons of people asking about who McDonald was, whether anyone had offered him money or food, and if there was any way to thank him.
"I updated the caption to ask people if anyone knew who he was, and a lot of people said he was consistently at that station, and was currently experiencing homelessness," she said. She asked her followers if anyone had any more information about him, and eventually ran into him again at the station on Tuesday. "He was standing in the station holding a cup," she said. "Someone handed him a bag of food and he graciously took it. I went up to him and asked him if he was the man helping people across the puddle last week. 'Yeah, I heard I'm on Twitter.'"
Winston told him people wanted to honor his kindness by donating money, and McDonald gave Winston permission to start a GoFundMe. "His face kind of lit up, and he sorta didn't believe me, which is fine, because until he has the money, he doesn't need to believe me," she added. As of 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, she's raised over $1,500 for McDonald, who she calls "the NYC Subway Stranger."
McDonald was blown away that Winston would try to help him like this: "I'm ecstatic, she asked my permission, no one has ever asked me to do anything like this before," he said. "I've been there since 2015, I've met a lot of people, a lot of friends, they've been helping me for the last four years, and I feel like I had nothing to give them back. So when something like [the flooding] happens, I want to do my best for people. That was the worst situation I've seen in the station. I just felt i had to do something about it."
Winston is planning to keep the campaign up for at least a month, and hopes other people or organizations interested in helping McDonald reach out to her. "I will be working tirelessly to get this money to him," she added. "I think he should be trusted to use this money how he wants."
McDonald added that any donations could help him to try to improve his current situation: "I'm in a terrible situation right now, homeless and everything," he told us earlier today. "I'm not asking for much, but whatever it is can help. I just really want to get out of the shelter."