Community rallies around Austin’s shoeshine man, surprises him with new electric bicycle

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Dapper from head to toe, Phillip Wiggins has style and he takes pride in looking good when he is working. For the last three weeks, he’s been out of work after his homemade shoeshine cart and bicycle were stolen.

The Army veteran first started his mobile business “Boots Shoes & Pumps” in 2019 after facing several difficult years where he battled alcohol addiction, the loss of his wife and he almost ended up on the streets. He was homeless in terms of the word’s definition. He was a man without a home. However, Wiggins was able to connect with Caritas, which helped him back on the right track and find housing.

In September, he stepped inside an east Austin shop to buy something to drink and when he stepped outside his cart and bike had disappeared. He was able to find the shoeshine cart after some area neighbors helped with the search, but the bike remained missing. Wiggins was fond of his bike, as he had transformed and retrofitted a road bike into an electric bike.

“I am lost and I am stressed,” Wiggins said two weeks ago when KXAN shared his story. “Please, give me a break.”

After his story aired on KXAN, dozens of people from across Central Texas emailed us asking how they could help this Army veteran get back on his feet. They offered anything and everything that could help Wiggins get back to work. It included people like Mark Baldwin. He decided to start a GoFundMe to buy him an electric bike. He had never done anything like this before in his life, but he said Wiggins’ story resonated with him.

“My dad served in the Army, like a lot of other people, and I wanted to give back to another veteran,” Baldwin explained.

The GoFundMe goal was set for $654 — the cost of the bike, shipping and taxes. People pitched in from $5 to $200 with one person leaving a comment reading, “Just wanted to help the man out.”

Fast forward to Tuesday, Oct. 19, Baldwin and his son spent the weekend building the bike.

“I had to pay him,” Baldwin said jokingly.

Others including Ruthie Hanna, Eloy Fernandez, as well as a representative from Caritas showed up Tuesday morning to Krieg Fields to surprise Wiggins with his new electric bike. That’s because Ruthie Hanna said she wanted Wiggins to know, “Austin is behind him.”

(KXAN Photo/Candy Rodriguez)

When Wiggins arrived at Krieg Fields in southeast Austin on Tuesday morning on his two feet, little did he know, he would be leaving on two wheels. 

“I feel blessed, really blessed to be able to go back to work,” Wiggins said after giving his new electric bicycle a whirl. “I am grateful for all the community support that I’ve gotten.”

Others like Hanna provided some financial support. The veteran’s story had an impact on the community and the community wanted to help. To all those who helped and reached out, Wiggins had this say, “I thank you from the bottom of my heart that you people have great hearts and were able to help me so I can get back to work. Thank you, Thank you very much.”

Wiggins plans to get back to work Wednesday morning starting at 10 a.m. outside the Codependent, a cocktail bar located inside The Independent near West Avenue and West Third Street. Then, around 1 p.m., he’ll head down West Third Street, about a half a mile down the road, to Finley’s Barbershop to work in that area for the rest of the afternoon.

(KXAN Photo/Candy Rodriguez)

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