FORT COLLINS (AP) For three years, Del Lovejoy could be found at the corner of Mulberry and Timberline, quietly holding a battered cardboard sign reading, Need Work. All Help is Grateful. God Bless.
Hed try to make at least $40 a day to pay for a cheap hotel or find shelter wherever he could. Hed slowly accumulate change to pay for medication for an old neck injury, leaving after he met his allotted budget or saw there was no hope for making more than a dollar or two.
It was never enough and he absolutely hated doing it.
But a few months ago, Lovejoys fate changed.
He celebrated his first Labor Day in many as one of Larimer Countys workforce, trading in his cardboard plea for a big, yellow sign from Once Again Thrift and an above minimum wage paycheck.
My jobs easy, he joked. I went from holding a sign on the street to actually getting a paycheck for holding a bigger sign.
Shortly after being featured in an April 25 Coloradoan article about panhandlers along the Mulberry corridor, Lovejoy was given a $100 bill that pushed his world into gear.
At the time, panhandling was the only way he could survive in a tough economy, but he never quite made enough to clean up and consistently look for a job.
He credits that donation for helping him seek something more than a cardboard sign on a blustery corner.
That $100 bill gave me confidence, he said. I dont know if I would have gotten this job without that money to help me get around and look for it.
He walked into Once Again Thrift three times, following up with founder and manager Nancy Agnew until she gave him a chance with a part-time position.
Months later, hes a full-time staple on College Avenue near Whole Foods on Monday through Friday, waving his sign while flashing a smile and a casual peace sign at passing cars.
There was something about Del that made me want to give him a chance, Agnew said. I used to make jokes that the people who stand on the street with their signs are experienced and should come hold a sign for me and get paid.
Ive offered many of them positions, but Ive had yet to offer someone a job on the street that took it. Del came in, applied and its worked out really well for us. Im glad I gave him that chance.
As for Lovejoy, he couldnt be happier. Though hes been offered jobs that would pay a dollar or two an hour more, he wouldnt dream of giving up his thrift store family.
I never did like asking for help on the street, he said. Im happy here. I havent missed a day yet.
At the beginning of each shift, Lovejoy marvels at the beauty of hidden treasures found in the store, hoping that some of them might be around when he turns in his sign at 6:30 p.m. each evening. Just like him, theyve been given another chance.
Theres a lot of excellent, beautiful things here for a good price, he said. Nancy doesnt judge a book or person by its cover. She doesnt judge you for where youve been. She judges you for who you are now and where youre going in life.