BLOOMINGTON — What started as a weekly wave between a little girl and her neighborhood trash hauler has become a heart-warming story for more than a half million people
On Thursday mornings, 3-year-old Brooklyn Andracke anxiously awaits the arrival of the city garbage truck at her south Bloomington home.
Last week, after she brought driver Delvar Dopson a cupcake from her birthday, mom Traci Andracke snapped some photos that eventually were posted on the city's Facebook page.
As of Thursday, the photos had received 572,700 views, 12,000 "likes" and 544 comments, some from as far away as Hawaii, Florida and California, said Bloomington Communication Manager Nora Dukowitz. One commenter heard about it on a newscast in Florida.
"Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought it would have gotten to where (they) have been shared a half-million times," said Dopson, 34.
Since the story went viral, Dopson, a 10-year public works employee, said he has gotten emails from sanitation workers from across the nation, Japan and Canada.
"They're garbage guys and blue collar workers," he added. "They're saying: 'Garbage guys aren't all smelly, they're smiley. Delvar, thanks for representing garbage guys across the nation.'"
"My husband and I were just blown away," said Traci Andracke, an assistant general manager at the city-owned U.S. Cellular Coliseum. "I'm glad everyone sees the kindness behind Delvar's heart and that he wanted to make our Thursday mornings special for Brooklyn.
"A lot of people said it brought them to tears. It was just such a heartwarming story of kindness in the world and the special relationship between our garbage man and my daughter."
It started a year ago with then 2-year-old Brooklyn waving from the window as the garbage truck passed by, said her mom. Then Brooklyn, her mom and little brother Ty moved outside to wave. And when they missed the truck, Traci Andracke would drive the kids around the neighborhood to find the truck so Brooklyn could wave.
The driver made a big point of honking and waving back, said Andracke. "He'd have a huge smile and she just felt really, really special," she added.
"And so we look forward to Thursday mornings, garbage day, all week," said Andracke. "Monday morning, she starts asking if it's garbage day yet.
"We didn't know him," she said. "For a while I've been thinking we should make him cookies some time just to tell him thanks."
When Brooklyn's birthday happened to be on "garbage day" last week, she and her mom wrapped up a cupcake.
"It was going to be a great time to meet him," said Andracke. "We were waiting for him as usual."
As his truck came down her street, Brooklyn ran to the corner and her mom waved for the driver to pull over. Dopson stopped and got out of the truck.
"It was the first time they met, and my daughter is usually so bubbly and outgoing and has a lot to say," said Andracke. "But as soon as he got out of his truck, she just looked at him like he was just this amazing person. She was completely speechless."
Andracke explained it was Brooklyn's birthday and she wanted to give him a cupcake for making every "garbage day" so special.
Afterward, Andracke posted on her personal Facebook page:
"Then, melt my heart, he explained that he looks forward to seeing us every Thursday as well. He said that he has a meeting every Thursday morning and always tries to get out of there in a hurry so that he can make sure to see us every week. He said he doesn't have any kids of his own, but he mentors several children and just loves them."
After he left, Andracke took her daughter to daycare.
"Brooklyn was unusually quiet in the backseat," said Andracke. "I asked her if she was OK, and she said, 'Mommy, I'm so happy.'"
Rather than the story ending there, it took on a life of its own.
Andracke's co-workers sent some details and a photo of Brooklyn with her trash hauler to the Public Works Department, which forwarded it to Dukowitz. She posted additional photos on the city's Facebook page with Andracke's help. From there, the story spread.
When Dopson returned this week, Brooklyn had a thank-you sign for him, which he placed in the front window of his truck.
Dopson had something for her, too: belated birthday presents.
"I didn't know I was her idol," he said. "I just looked forward to seeing this young lady every Thursday. She topped it off last week with a cupcake.
"It doesn't matter if I'm a garbage man or if I'm a CFO at State Farm. We all have to discover our gift and be effective," said Dopson. "I mentor children and that is the passion in my heart.
"This is my job, but my (life's) work is ... to inspire the young," he added. "I believe everybody on earth has a gift. Once they discover that gift, that's when they can make a true difference.
"By me recognizing my gift, I think I'm affecting my workplace," he added. "I think everybody can do that."
Follow Maria Nagle on Twitter: @pg_nagle