For his positive attitude — unflagging despite hardships — Costco’s customers embrace ‘Teddy’ bear

By Erin Middlewood, Columbian special projects reporter

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Teddy Patrick has won the hearts of thousands at Vancouver’s Costco store, where his job in customer service includes checking receipts as customers leave. Sometimes, he serenades them with “Unchained Melody.” Always, he looks them in the eye and offers sincere good wishes.

One shopper started a Facebook page in his honor — “Teddy from Costco Vancouver, WA” — that has 2,100 fans and counting.

“There is a hunger in this country for openness,” Patrick said. “When people see that, they are drawn to it if they see it’s honest and sincere.”

His fame recently expanded. He stars in a Goodwill Industries advertisement made by Red Door Films of Portland now airing on television. Goodwill’s Job Connection program helped Patrick find his job at Costco eight years ago. His success is a mark of pride for the organization, which has tapped him to tell his story over the years.

Patrick in his life has held a number of solid, well-paying blue-collar jobs, but he found himself homeless and jobless in 2002. He had quit his job at UPS to follow a dream of helping others. A woman asked him to join her in starting a program to help unwed mothers go to school. But the woman was a con artist who was stealing from him. Patrick was evicted from his apartment. He had to find places for his three sons, then teenagers, to stay.

“Because of God, I never felt dejected or helpless,” Patrick said. “People say, ‘Why me? Where are you, God?’ God taught me never to ask that. The sun shines on the good and the bad. It rains on the good and the bad, too.”

Patrick turned to Goodwill for help. He met Gary Van Allen, who was then an employment specialist at the Fourth Plain store and now is deputy director of the Job Connection program for Goodwill Industries of the Columbia Willamette.

Although Goodwill is best known for its assistance to people with disabilities, the Job Connection program helps anyone who is unemployed. It focuses on those who have barriers to landing a job that range from a criminal record to being older than 55 to significant time out of the work force.

Patrick said he didn’t see barriers for himself, although he won’t tell people his age because he believes it may have cost him jobs in the past.

“Gary called every day, sometimes a couple of times a day,” Patrick said.

Van Allen worked with an average of 80 clients at a time, but Patrick stood out.

Help from Goodwill

Goodwill’s Job Connection program helps people with barriers to employment ranging from a criminal history to simply having been out of work for a long time.

For help, call 360-695-1923 or visit the Goodwill thrift store at 6425 N.E. Fourth Plain Blvd. in Vancouver from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

“He had a smile on his face. He was someone you would want to engage in a conversation. He was really energized and positive,” Van Allen said. “He had the elements employers tell us they’re looking for — attitude, dependability and ability to learn on the job. Those are things we can control as individuals.”

Costco takes applications online now, but still had paper applications when Patrick was job hunting. Patrick completed a stack of forms and kept going back to submit them.

He nabbed a job at the Portland store, and moved to the Vancouver outlet when it opened.

He gained a reputation for his singing by accident, he said. One day, he was sweeping the breezeway of the store and singing to himself. A shopper heard him and said, “Sing it again.” Customers have come to expect a song from him, and praise his pipes. Patrick credits the acoustics of the breezeway.

Patrick’s boss, John Bartlett, general manager of the Vancouver Costco, said the store receives at least two to three comment cards from members each month praising Patrick.

“Teddy has great chemistry with our members,” Bartlett said. “Teddy does more to create relationships with members than anyone I’ve ever seen. He has a way of connecting with people. I think he genuinely brightens people’s day.”

That’s Patrick’s hope.

“My prayer before God,” he said, “is that I make a difference in a person’s life.”