Ottawa panhandler thanks strangers for their kindness

A "reluctant panhandler" is thanking the people of Ottawa for their generosity and kindness.

Scott Murray, 52, a former Canada Food Inspection Agency worker, has been battling non-Hodgkins lymphoma for the past 10 years.

His disability pension covers his rent, but can't cover all of his pharmacy bills. There's nothing left for food.

When he woke up last Thursday to an empty fridge — his local food bank wasn't open that day — he made a sign that read, "Cancer patient, just need some food & milk, please and thank you," walked to the Elmvale Acres Shopping Centre, and panhandled for the first time in his life.

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"I woke up. I've got a little cat here with me and he was just a-whining because I hadn’t fed him for a while. And I said to myself, pride goes before the fall. You know I decided to try something. First time in my life," he told the Ottawa Citizen.

He was overwhelmed by the generosity that followed.

"I can tell you every person that gave me a nickel or a $20 bill," he said Wednesday. "I can tell what they looked like and what they said. It wasn’t just that they mindlessly dropped money in a cup then walked away."

The kindness of strangers compelled Murray to write an open letter to the Ottawa Citizen:

"The outpouring from people was too much to bear," he wrote. "One young lady gave me $20 and then another lady with a disabled daughter got out and gave me another $20. That was it. I cried for almost an hour. For complete strangers to show concern for a person they didn’t even know was too much. I had all my medical records with me in case someone thought I might be pulling a fast one. Not one person doubted me. So if anyone says the people of Ottawa are cold or uncaring, I will be the first to correct them. Once again, thank you to anyone who gave me a dime or a twenty dollar bill. You have hearts as big as our snowbanks in the city."

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Read his entire letter here.

When his letter was published, an even greater response of compassion poured in.

People offered to drop off meals, pay Murray's outstanding pharmacy bills, and even "make sure his fridge was full for the rest of his days."

On Thursday evening, Murray emailed Blair Crawford, the Ottawa Citizen reporter who first covered his story:

"I’m at a loss of words from the response of total strangers, I have to say I’ve really been humbled by the whole thing! I think people can tell when someone is genuine, and not trying to pull a fast one. My hope in the human race has definitely taking a turn for the best with this whole situation. I don't know how to thank you Blair for conveying my gratitude to the people of Ottawa! Thanks again," he wrote, adding that he personally responded to each and every email he'd received after his open letter was published.

If you, too, would like to brighten Murray's day, he can be reached through his email: bevscott@mail.com.