ASHLAND, Ky. – Just a few months ago, David Edwards was an ex-con who had lost his job, needed back surgery and had no idea what he would do when his unemployment checks ran out.
Then the unbelievable happened — he won $41 million in the Powerball lottery.
Now, he's giving a chunk of his winnings — $700,000 so far — to those who need it. He bought playground equipment for children, purchased cars for the working poor and paid off medical bills for the sick.
"I'm having a great time," he said. "You just don't know what it does for me to be able to help other people."
There's just one caveat to his generosity: Edwards doesn't appreciate people knocking his door down to ask for a handout.
"There's a lot of people out there who are just takers," he said. "They want to hound you. They feel like you owe them. They try to reach me in every way. It's been pretty hard to go through that."
Edwards refused to specifically identify any of the people or groups he has given money to. Some, however, have publicly thanked him, including a Westwood boys' club that received $50,000, a volunteer fire department that received $40,000 and an elementary school that got $16,000.
"I don't even know how he found out we needed it to tell you the truth," said Carl Thompson, superintendent of the Fairview school district in the blue-collar community of Westwood, where parents and teachers were trying to scrape together money to buy playground equipment. "It was a surprise to us, and we were thrilled with it."
Edwards had become so popular among people with hard-luck stories that he had to move away from his home outside Ashland.
"I was told that people would come out of the woodwork at me," the 46-year-old divorcee said. "I didn't know how true that would be."
He chose a $1.5 million home with a pillared front and marble floors in Palm Beach Gardens, a community surrounded by golf courses in South Florida. His assortment of automobiles includes a Lamborghini, Ferrari, Bentley and Shelby. A rusted Cadillac and an aging Pontiac parked at his old house in Westwood look like they haven't been driven since his lucky day.
An ex-con who spent 10 years in prison for robbing a gas station, Edwards said he had to scrape by after being released in 1997 because few companies were willing to hire a man with a record.
He landed a job with a company that hangs fiber-optic cable. But after being laid off, he depended on monthly unemployment checks. With only one month to go before those benefits expired, Edwards was losing hope.
Life changed for Edwards and his fiance, Shawna Maddux, after he handed $8 to a clerk and walked out of a convenience store just 90 minutes before the drawing for the $294 million Powerball jackpot. The odds of winning were 1 in 80 million. Four people collected in the winnings.
Edwards claimed his prize Aug. 27 and took his money in a lump sum, $41 million before taxes, $28 million after.
Not everything about getting rich overnight was pleasant. Perhaps most difficult, Edwards said, was the media dredging up his criminal record after he collected his winnings.
He acknowledges making mistakes in the past, but he said now he is concentrating on a positive future.
"I'd starve to death underneath a bridge before I'd do anything illegal," he said.