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October 26. 2012 12:22AM

Readers, friends go extra mile for homeless Marine to run marathon


Rob Bernier (MARK HAYWARD/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER — A homeless Marine Corps veteran will run in the Marine Marathon this weekend, after several of his acquaintances read about his plight in Thursday's New Hampshire Union Leader.

Rob Bernier said he started hearing from former customers, Facebook friends and others who read about his desire to run in the marathon in Washington, D.C., this Sunday.

They donated money. A former customer offered to let him borrow her Mercedes-Benz (but only for local job searches). And a Goffstown used car dealer told him to stop by for an interview after the marathon.

“I'm not used to this. I'm not used to any handouts,” Bernier said. “I'm used to giving more than anything else.”

In February, the 42-year-old lost his job selling Mercedes-Benz vehicles. An operation followed, he fell behind on his bills and he's been living in Liberty House, a homeless shelter for veterans, for about a month.

Earlier this week, he expressed his desire to run in the Marine Marathon, which would be his 15th marathon.

He said he received about $400 from people who read the article.

“This is really a phenomenal outcome, thanks to the readers of the Union Leader,” said Keith Howard, a case manager at Liberty House. He said some of the clients at the 10-bed shelter are like Bernier and need the shelter to persevere through a temporary setback. They become the organization's biggest supporters, Howard said.

“He would not have reached out on his own,” Howard said, “but once he did he was grateful.”

Bernier said he heard from a former customer who gave him $100 and offered the use of the Mercedes for local job searches. Another donation came from a person whose floor he helped tile. Strangers contacted him with other offers.

Bernier said he used most the money for a plane ticket. He'll use the rest for food once he's down there.

Bernier said he had just about given up on running in the marathon until he spoke to the newspaper. He said he felt awkward about taking money, but was put at ease by his former customer. She lost her job four years ago and was grateful for the help she received then.

“She knows how I feel,” said Bernier, who expects he will have the opportunity to help others in the future. “I'm just going to pay it forward.”

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Mark Hayward may be reached at mhayward@unionleader.com.


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