Betsy Goinski took a chance and invited a stranded, weary traveler into her home in cold, snowy December.
The traveler – who spoke little English – told her he was on a journey to find a daughter he had not seen in three years. He said he had been robbed at the train station in Depew. But he thought he was in New York City, so he was intent on just walking to Manhattan, where he believed his daughter is living.
She took him into her home, gave him shelter and food, and then bought him a bus ticket to New York.
In her mind, she was not being reckless. She was just doing what any decent human being would do for someone in need.
“I was never raised being afraid of people,” Goinski said. “I was raised to help out. You know, you never know when someone’s going to need your help, and you never know when you’re going to need somebody’s help.”
The tale began in the last week of December, just after a deep snowfall buried the Southtowns and temperatures were below freezing.
Another Elma resident told Goinski that an apparent homeless man had been seen several times hanging clothes over bushes in the vicinity of Bowen Road.
Goinski took it upon herself to investigate. She drove to the foot of the hill on Bowen Road, where she spotted the stranger.
“The next thing I know as I’m driving up the road, I see a plastic, canvas, clothes, everything hanging from trees. So I said, you know what, he’s obviously down in the ditch there. I will stop,” Goinski recalled.
She rolled down her window and addressed the man. She quickly learned that he was Spanish-speaking and did not speak English well. She doesn’t speak Spanish at all. Despite the language barrier, Goinski was able to communicate that she was offering to help him.
“I said, ‘Do you want somewhere warm to come and stay? I have a house. I will let you go in my house so you can dry your clothes, whatever you need,’” she told him.
The man seemed a bit wary, Goinski recalled, but he got in the backseat of her pickup truck, and they headed to her house.
“He walked in, you know, no laced shoes. I told him, ‘Let’s go back to where your clothes are. You can pack up your clothes.’ "
“I said, ‘You can come and spend the night at my house.’ And so he did,” Goinski said.
Goinski then telephoned a friend, Pedro Iglesias of Buffalo, who speaks fluent Spanish. Iglesias agreed to act as a translator in a three-way conversation over the phone. And that is how Goinski learned the stranded man’s story.
He showed her a Cuban-issued ID that identified him as Jose Duren Matus.
“The story he told Pedro, which Pedro told us, was that he was traveling from California to Manhattan, with a stop on Amtrak in Depew. He was robbed of his items in Depew, so he continued walking. He thought he was near New York City.
“The first words he said to Pedro were, ‘Am I not in New York City?’ "
“My first response when Pedro said that to me is that this is a far cry from New York City. We are country. It’s quite a difference from New York City,” Goinski said.
Meanwhile, Jose had lost everything.
“He said he picked out of the garbage. He picked out of the Goodwill on Transit and French. And he said that people would give him items, but he was carrying everything out of garbage bags and shopping carts,” she said.
Goinski was not sure how long Jose had been stranded when she encountered him in late December.
“It was right when we had that heavy snow, and then we had that very cold weather. As a matter of fact, he was sleeping on somebody’s porch, he said. And they called the cops immediately, and the cops told him that if he didn’t move, they were going to have him arrested,” she recalled.
“He stayed with me overnight and the following morning. After we’d had a nice dinner, we woke up the following morning, had a nice breakfast, he said he would like to go and find his daughter who lives in Manhattan,” she said. “He had an address for his daughter. Even I tried finding his daughter, and I could not find any information on his daughter. He had not been in contact with her for over three years. So we don’t know if his daughter moved or what happened to his daughter.”
Still, Goinski had a plan to attempt to reunite Jose with his daughter.
“I purchased him a suitcase. I purchased him clothing, and I basically packed up everything. I gave him some money. I purchased him a Megabus ticket and I took him to the airport ... and we got him on the Megabus,” she said.
Goinski has not heard from Jose, though she would certainly like to, not just for the validation but to be assured he is safe.
Life has returned to normal for Goinski, who is the director of the senor center in Elma. One of her responsibilities is reporting to the Elma Town Board, which she did last Wednesday. She assumed she was there to issue a monthly report.
“I totally had a report written. I just knew what I was going to say for the Erie County lunch program,” Goinski said.
Instead, she was greeted by Supervisor Dennis M. Powers and the rest of the board, and presented with a plaque and special citation for her selfless deed.
The story of her helping the wayward traveler had made the rounds in the rural community.
While the town supervisor was impressed by the extent of her generosity, Powers said he was not surprised.
“She’s just a very loving, giving person and would go out of her way to help anyone,” he said. “That’s her background. She’s been a volunteer firewoman and the first female chief in Elma’s history, Elma Fire Company’s history. She’s just a lovely young lady. So I’m not surprised.”