When he couldn't talk, Harrison Halstead squealed with enthusiasm at the sound of a Republic Services truck lumbering down his block. His mom, Kristi Halstead, would then whisk him out of his high chair toward the window so her son could witness the sight.
And when Harrison discovered the ability to enunciate, "truck" was the first word he uttered.
"He's had a fascination with garbage trucks since then," said Kristi, who is a 19-year Wilsonville resident. "It has never swayed."
Now at 14, the Inza R. Wood Middle School student aspires to work for the Wilsonville garbage and recycling collector when he's older, draws illustrations of Republic Services' trucks, takes tours of the facility every year, and makes a point to greet collectors at 6 a.m. every Monday.
This week Republic Services showed Harrison that the feeling of appreciation is mutual, sending six trucks by the Halsteads' home and delivering Harrison a gift package.
"With this COVID (virus pandemic), he's not able to come to our facility or get out, so we decided, 'Let's do him a favor and do a drive-by and give him a package and make his day,'" said Republic Services supervisor Kelly Herrod. "He's our No. 1 fan."
Harrison, who has high-functioning autism, didn't have much of an interest in eating when he was a young kid. So Kristi would tell him that if he finished his food, she would drive him to Republic Services to see the trucks. After the first few visits, a perplexed Republic Services manager stopped by their car to see what they were doing.
"I told him 'This is a reward, if he finishes eating, is to come over here and watch the trucks,'" Kristi said. "From then on it has become a relationship that has evolved over the years."
Now, Harrison makes a point to greet Republic Services representatives at events like the annual Wilsonville Festival of Arts, and Kristi and Harrison make jam for Republic Services personnel every Christmas.
Not to mention, he can easily list off proper recycling protocols, is enthusiastic about composting, noted that Republic Services recently switched to condensed natural gas for fuel and organizes the family's recycling every Sunday. He also enjoys doing yardwork, in part because he can fill the yard debris bin.
"On Sunday morning, he takes all the trash and recycling in our house, he sorts it into three of our bins and puts them out for the truck," said Harrison's father, Chip Halstead. "We don't have to ask him. He likes doing it."
Harrison never misses the truck driver stopping by his house every Monday morning and says he knows all of the drivers by name.
"I say 'Good morning.' This year I'm telling them to stay safe out there because of the COVID-19 pandemic," he said.
Kristi added: "He's (Harrison) one to try to make a difference in someone else's life and do something good for people, and it's nice to see a garbage man taking time out of his busy day to say hello and say hi to Harrison for a few minutes."
Harrison appreciates the work the drivers do, noting that they often pick up recycling at close to 1,000 homes a day.
"I think the machine that picks up the can and dumps it is really cool. I love seeing the drivers on Monday morning," he said.
On its end, Republic Services posts Harrison's many truck drawings, which include minute details like the truck number, in their driver room.
"It's amazing, the detail," Herrod said.
Halstead sometimes struggles to focus on things outside of garbage and recycling and Kristi uses his preferred vocation as a lesson that he needs to make sure to work hard in school and do the right things to make his dream of becoming a garbage man a reality.
"We're teaching him that if you want to become an employee at Republic he has to be able to listen and follow directions and stay focused," Kristi said.
During the drive-thru Tuesday, May 12, the drivers waved and honked toward the Halsteads' home and presented Harrison with a gift box that included a Republic Services hat, a basketball, a cup and a pen. And Harrison's neighbors and family also showed up to make the occasion that much more special.
"He (Harrison) knew everyone as they were coming by and the excitement started to build," Kristi said. "He got excited to see his friends coming by."
To say that Harrison appreciated the gesture might be an understatement.
"I think today was a great day of my life, and I'm going to remember this for the rest of my life," he said.
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