One summer’s evening in 2016, Lisa Fandrich spotted an elderly man pushing his wheelchair and a walker across an overpass in Phoenix, Arizona. And over the next few months, the man became a regular sight in the area. Fandrich, however, was broken-hearted at the thought of the gentleman’s predicament, so one day she decided to ask what he was doing.
Fandrich works both as a health coach at Beachbody and as a barista at a Starbucks in Phoenix. It was while she was going about her daily business, moreover, that she spotted the elderly gentleman. And that wouldn’t be the only time Fandrich would see him, either.
As Fandrich described to 12 News in November 2016, “I saw this elderly man crossing the overpass on the 51, in the middle of summer at 8:30 p.m. at night, pushing his wheelchair and a walker.” It was a sight that the health coach found somewhat upsetting.
Indeed, as Fandrich would later write on a GoFundMe page, “There have been several times I have actually gone out of my way to drive another way home because seeing him there has brought me to tears.” But when she had caught a glimpse of him, she had spotted something on the elderly man’s walker. It seemed he had a purpose.
Hanging from the walking aid was a sign and some lights, with the notice reading “copper coins for sale.” And the vision moved Fandrich considerably. “I felt, why would someone his age have to be out here in the Phoenix heat working? It’s not fair,” she told 12 News.
And yet the more Fandrich saw the old man, the more she wondered about him. Who was he? Where had he come from? What was he doing selling coins in the scorching Phoenix heat? So, one day in June 2016, she drove up to his usual spot to find out.
And, sure enough, the man, whom locals know only as Paul, had set up his makeshift stall right there. So, Fandrich pulled up. “I didn’t see any water [there], so I stopped and got a couple bottles of water,” she later told 12 News. “[Then I] said it’s time for me to hear his story, because there’s a reason why he’s here.”
It turned out that Paul had moved to Phoenix 37 years ago. Now in his late 70s, he and his wife of 54 years rely on Social Security to make ends meet, and so Paul sells his coins to make some extra cash. He sticks faithfully to his spot under the illuminated sign of Church’s Chicken and stays until the lights go out.
Fandrich admitted to Paul that she had driven past him under the Church’s Chicken sign for months and had been worried about him all that time. To that, the elderly man – whom locals know to be sweet and genuine – replied simply, “God watches out for me.”
And as Fandrich had $10 with her, she asked Paul to find his two favorite coins and promptly bought them. Touched by his story and the tenacity he showed by grafting in the sweltering Phoenix heat, Fandrich then took his picture and, eventually, posted his story online.
There, Fandrich set up a GoFundMe page in an attempt to drum up a little support for Paul and his wife. And when a news anchor in San Francisco shared the post, the story went viral and the fundraiser became a roaring success.
Soon enough, in fact, locals and well-wishers from further afield had raised over $10,000 for Paul and his wife. In the process, Fandrich also learned that she wasn’t the first to have struck up a friendship with the coin-seller. Indeed, it seemed as if Paul had been busy trading his wares for several years.
“He stays here until the Church’s Chicken sign goes off most nights just about, rain or shine,” Tyler Karl, who befriended Paul several years ago, told 12 News. “He is one of the nicest, most genuine people you’ll ever meet, one of the most trusting people as well.”
Paul’s presence also hasn’t gone unnoticed by workers at the fast food joint he works in front of. Staff regularly check on the old man, wary of any trouble that he may encounter. But when Karl stopped by to tell Paul about the money collected for him, he wasn’t there.
Perhaps Paul’s disappearance had something to do with having no more coins to sell. After all, when his story went viral, the old man suddenly received an influx of new customers. Small groups would arrive to buy Paul’s coins and stick around to talk to him.
But there was more going on in the shy old man’s life than many people realized. Weeks after the story broke, Paul’s wife was admitted to hospital. Every day, then, the elderly gentleman gave up his spot in front of the fast food restaurant to remain by his wife’s bedside.
When Fandrich finally tracked Paul down, though, and told him of the money that had been raised, the usually reserved Paul’s emotions got the better of him. The barista explained on the GoFundMe page, “When I met with Paul tonight and gave him some information about what you’ve all done, he cried. He grabbed my hand and held on tight.”
With his wife wheelchair-bound and Paul coping with health issues of his own, medical bills were high. It’s a lot for anyone to cope with, not least an elderly couple living on Social Security. And with Paul having no family in Phoenix to help, either, the situation may have looked dire for the pair.
Indeed, at one point Paul and his wife came close to losing their home. But thanks to the outpouring of support from the community and the generosity of complete strangers, the fundraiser prevented that from happening. So far, the GoFundMe page has raised more than $32,000 for them.
And Fandrich still regularly visits Paul at his usual spot in front of the Church’s Chicken restaurant. She told 12 News, “He’s a very humble man and doesn’t like to accept help. But we’re hoping this will be something to maybe live out some of his years in a little more comfort than he has been.”