POCATELLO, Idaho - A Pocatello man got quite a surprise Saturday morning when he showed up to the Christ Love Vineyard expecting to be interviewed regarding a fundraiser he had begun to pay for a handicap-accessible van for himself.
Instead, he got a new car, paid for by donations.
I feel honored to introduce you to the man who puts others before himself, while never complaining about life in a wheelchair.
Mike Vanderkooi volunteers over 100 hours a month at various places in Pocatello. He could never have guessed that volunteering at the Idaho Foodbank would eventually lead to this moment.
But that's where Merriann Forrest met Mike, and from there she said she felt called by a higher power to do something for him.
After all, he volunteers at Portneuf Medical Center as well, and told folks Saturday morning he was looking into ways to help the Idaho Red Cross.
So Forrest began the Miracle on First Street project.
"Miracle on First Street does not stop until Mike's needs are met," Forrest said. "He has to do the army crawl into his house. He has to do the army crawl downstairs and up."
And he has similar difficulties while getting in and out of his SUV.
He has to hold onto the ski rack and hop to the back to get his wheelchair out. And getting his wheelchair back in involves what he described as a discus-type event. All the while he could lose his balance and seriously hurt himself.
However, Saturday that worry seemed to evaporate with love and happiness for Mike.
I showed up early enough to get the lowdown of the surprise, and once Mike showed up, I treated it like any normal interview.
I asked questions about the fundraiser, I asked about why he had started this and I concluded by asking, "You have a lot of reasons to be negative, so why do you choose to focus on volunteering your time to help other people?"
"Oh boy," he said, "That's a tough question."
He then went on to explain that the rewards he receives by helping people is just too good of a feeling to pass up.
"I could just sit around and feel sorry for myself and watch the 10 millionth rerun of NCIS that I've seen before," he said, getting a laugh from the surrounding crowd. "Or I could actually get out and do something that helps people. That's what makes it so rewarding because I am able to help some people."
With all the questions answered, Mike thought he was done, but this is when it really got started.
The crowd began to chant, "show that miracle!" The truck and RV behind Mike pulled away. Mike, still unaware of the generous gift pulling toward him was chanting along with everyone else. He stopped once Forrest pulled up behind Mike in the 2003 Dodge Entervan, the handicap-accessible version of the Caravan.
As the crowd applauded, Mike gasped and had to put his hands to his face.
"Oh my goodness! How did you do this?" he asked with wet eyes.
And his eyes weren't the only teary eyes, including this reporter's.
Friends and family jumped forward to help Mike 'play with his new toy,' as Forrest said, including Pocatello's Mayor Brian Blad. Blad said he had only found out about the event the day before and said he simply couldn't miss the outpouring of giving Pocatello spirit.
Mike's friends and family raised $5,500 to pay for this van. Les Schwab Tires will be donating a full set of new tires for Mike. Hirning in Pocatello is also offering a complete inspection as well as free oil changes and the owner of Sign-O-Rama even donated a banner for the event.
Forrest also gave a gift to Mike's nephew. His nephew donated the first dollar toward this goal, making it all possible. Forrest handed him that same framed dollar.
"He never complains," Forrest said, adding that faith in a higher power helped her fulfill this gift for Mike.
She said the timing of how everything worked out was more than just luck or a coincidence.
"So the miracle really is the fact that the Lord put us in each others lives," Forrest said. "Mike is the miracle. He is amazing."
She added that she's not stopping here. She is looking for people to help with his living situation, either by helping build a new house for him or remodeling the home he has to be wheelchair accessible.
Once the people cleared away today, Mike drove off, just one car among so many others.
A car with a miracle inside.