When a Florida sheriff’s deputy met an elderly man in downtown Sanford, he knew he had to do anything to help him. The 80-year-old veteran, with a Bible and a suitcase by his side, told the deputy he had been homeless for over two years and was sleeping on a park bench with only a blanket.
Just a day after the meeting, the Seminole County Sheriff’s Deputy Carl Tipton sought out the veteran with a piece of good news: He had found him a home to call his own.
Tipton credits Jesus for orchestrating his first meeting with U.S. Army veteran Richard Pajula on July 24. In an email interview with The Epoch Times, Tipton explained: “I finished eating lunch with my family in downtown Sanford. I walked along the old storefronts on my way back to my truck. That’s when I noticed him.”
“He was sitting on top of his walker inside the entryway to a vacant store,” Tipton described. “I immediately noticed the worn-out Bible next to him. He was a well-dressed and well-groomed elderly gentleman.”
(Courtesy of Carl Tipton)
However, what really caught Tipton’s eye that day was Pajula’s big red suitcase. “It appeared like he was waiting on a bus or a family member to come pick him up,” said the deputy, “but that was not to be. I was immediately prompted by the Holy Spirit to ask him if he needed help.”
Pajula was initially distrustful, but after Tipton explained that he was an off-duty sheriff’s deputy, the elderly man revealed that he had been homeless for over two years. He slept on a park bench by the Sanford lake with only a blanket to keep him warm. He also revealed that he had served n the U.S. Army from 1963 to 1965 in Field Artillery.
Pajula receives $1,500 a month from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs but explained that he was only willing to pay $400 a month in rent. As such, he was struggling to find suitable accommodation.
“Before I walked away, I laid hands on him and prayed,” Tipton regaled. “As I walked away, I could tell by his response that he did not expect to see me again.”
Moved by the elderly veteran’s conundrum, Tipton posted a picture of Pujara on Facebook along with his story and set up a fundraiser so that people could donate money for his rent and security deposit. The fund quickly amassed the $1,000 in an hour. Additionally, Tipton also located an affordable home for Pajula to move into.
On July 25, Tipton set out in his pickup truck with his sister to find Pajula and take him to see a trailer managed by Blessing from Jesus Over the Road Ministries Inc., the missionary couple that runs the venture, Tom and Penny Sheipe. They even insisted that they would take care of the veteran as they have done in the past.
Pajula, still reticent, agreed to stay one night.
“The next day on July 26, I picked Richard up for church,” Tipton told The Epoch Times. “I asked him about his first night, praying inside that he liked it. Richard then stated, ‘I found my home!’”
The community’s outpouring support really blew Tipton away. Among the additional gifts that poured in for the struggling veteran were a new set of dentures and a guitar. Pajula plans to write songs about his life-changing experience.
Then Tipton set up another fundraiser, which fast approached a $10,000 goal.
(Courtesy of Carl Tipton)
The money allowed the deputy, and a team of volunteers, to locate an even newer, bigger travel trailer for the veteran in Kissimmee, Florida. The trailer was being sold by Vietnam veteran Ken Licari, who canceled all other viewings when he heard Pajula’s story. “[H]e knew in his heart that his RV was meant for Richard,” Tipton explained.
Pajula, having found his new support network, had the RV moved on Aug. 12 to where the old RV was placed as the veteran had enjoyed the view.
On Aug. 14, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held, and Pajula was handed the keys to his new RV.
In the next few days, people donated Pajula clothing, food, appliances, furniture, and more.
“We are going to put the red suitcase and his walker next to the state-of-the-art RV with Richard standing in between, and take a picture,” said Tipton. “A beautiful testimony of what love looks like. A love that took a homeless vet who was sleeping on a park bench with all but a suitcase and a walker to his very own spacious and beautiful home!”
On Aug. 22, the veteran was admitted to the hospital for an operation to remove a tumor from his intestines. The following day, Tipton visited his new friend in the ICU. “Just visited Richard,” he posted. “Charge nurse said he is doing well. Praise and thanks be to Jesus!”
During Pajula’s momentary health setback, the outpouring of public support continued. Tipton reopened the fundraiser for everyone interested in helping the veteran’s cause. At the time of writing, Tipton’s fund has raised over US$17,500 and counting.
Reflecting on the few days and witnessing the overwhelming support from the community, Tipton implored: “Do not believe that it is a waste of time to help just one.”
“Because your one kind and loving action can change a person, a community, and a city,” he further added.
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