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More than $200,000 donated to Detroit man who walks 21 miles during his daily commute

In this Jan. 29 photo, James Robertson walks to catch his morning bus, before resuming his walk to work. (Ryan Garza/AP)

James Robertson’s commute is tougher than yours. Just … trust me on this.

Robertson takes a bus to his job at a factory, more than 20 miles from his Michigan home. Well, he takes a bus part of the way there.

He can’t rely on public transportation for his full route, so Robertson also walks.

And walks.

And walks.

The round trip totals about 21 miles on his feet.

We know this because Robertson’s “incredible daily commute” was featured in the Detroit Free Press, which reported:

Every trip is an ordeal of mental and physical toughness for this soft-spoken man with a perfect attendance record at work. And every day is a tribute to how much he cares about his job, his boss and his coworkers. Robertson’s daunting walks and bus rides, in all kinds of weather, also reflect the challenges some metro Detroiters face in getting to work in a region of limited bus service, and where car ownership is priced beyond the reach of many.
But you won’t hear Robertson complain — nor his boss.
“I set our attendance standard by this man,” says Todd Wilson, plant manager at Schain Mold & Engineering. “I say, if this man can get here, walking all those miles through snow and rain, well I’ll tell you, I have people in Pontiac 10 minutes away and they say they can’t get here — bull!”

Robertson — who makes $10.55 an hour, about 30 percent above Michigan’s minimum wage — told the Free Press that his 1988 Honda Accord broke down years ago, and he never got another car to replace it. That led to his weekday treks, which can take hours. (He also said he didn’t previously know about a service in Detroit that helps those with low incomes get to and from their jobs.)

“I didn’t want to end up doing nothing,” Robertson told the Today show. “Do you know how long it took me to find this job?”

After the first piece on Robertson was published earlier this week, the Internet stepped in.

A Wayne State University student created a crowdfunding site that had raised more than $67,000 by Monday afternoon.

“Are you serious?” Robertson asked a Free Press reporter who told him that the college student had raised thousands on his behalf.

“I just used my phone,” Evan Leedy, the 19-year-old student, told the Free Press. “I created the go-funding site, and within an hour we had $2,000.”

That total kept climbing as Robertson’s story spread, and by Tuesday afternoon, more than $200,000 had been donated through the site. $200,000!

“I gotta say, this is Detroit, this is how people are in Detroit,” Robertson told the Free Press, when discussing the support he’s received. “They say Los Angeles is the city of angels. That’s wrong. Detroit is the real city of angels.”

Leedy and Robertson met at a local bar on Monday evening, the Free Press reported. They hugged, and Leedy relayed some of the messages that were left by online donors.

According to the newspaper:

“I’m always going to be in your debt — I will never forget this,” Robertson told Leedy, as the younger man in a sweater-hoodie shook his hand.
“I want to show you all the comments people are saying about you,” Leedy replied, as the two bent over the teen’s cell phone.

[Midwest miracle: Woman woke up hours before she was going to be taken off life support]

Leedy, the newspaper reported, had been struck by the original article on the 56-year-old Detroit man and the “sudden torrent of people commenting online, many of them asking how they could help Robertson.”

And then there’s the car, which a local dealership has offered to give Robertson, who had told the Free Press that he hadn’t had “a chance” to save for a new one before.

“We were just impressed with his determination,” said Angela Osborne, a customer service specialist at the Chevrolet dealership.

The newspaper reports that others have offered their own cars (or bikes) (or bus tickets) to help out. That group included Joe Coppola, a technical recruiter.

“I want to give him my 2004 Chevy Cavalier,” Coppola wrote in an e-mail, according to the paper. “It runs well and is certainly better than not having a car.”

The Free Press notes that Robertson “has a routine now, and he seems to like it, his coworkers say,” which is probably a thing to consider. And UBS banker Blake Pollock, a friend who sometimes gives Robertson rides, seemed to express mixed emotions about the donations.

But let’s just focus on the positives for now, because it looks like the weather kind of stinks in Detroit, and it would be cool if something nice came out of this, right?

“Putting a car in his driveway and just handing James the keys or filling his pockets with cash is not the answer. But with these resources now, we should be able to do something very positive for the guy,” Pollock told the newspaper. “I think the hundreds of donors want this to go to James and not have this go out of his hands. So, if we can set up this little board to manage his money, I think that can happen.”

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[This post has been updated.]