FORT COLLINS, Colo. — 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."
He'd try to make at least $40 a day to pay for a cheap hotel or find shelter wherever he could. He'd 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, Lovejoy's fate changed.
He celebrated his first Labor Day in many as one of Larimer County's workforce, trading in his cardboard plea for a big, yellow sign from Once Again Thrift and an above minimum wage paycheck.
"My job's 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 on 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 don't 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, he's a full-time staple on College Avenue near Whole Foods 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."
"I've offered many of them positions, but I've had yet to offer someone a job on the street that took it. Del came in, applied and it's worked out really well for us. I'm glad I gave him that chance."
As for Lovejoy, he couldn't be happier. Though he's been offered jobs that would pay a dollar or two an hour more, he wouldn't dream of giving up his thrift store family.
"I never did like asking for help on the street," he said. "I'm happy here. I haven't 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, they've been given another chance.
"There's a lot of excellent, beautiful things here for a good price," he said. "Nancy doesn't judge a book — or person — by its cover. She doesn't judge you for where you've been. She judges you for who you are now and where you're going in life."