For some people, surprises can be found in the most unexpected of places. And Cathy McAllister certainly may not have anticipated finding a stash of money inside an old discarded book, as she did in February 2019. After having discovered the cash, however, the volunteer went on to make an interesting decision.
Back in 1949, the Visiting Nurse Service Auxiliary (VNSA) organization was founded in Phoenix, Arizona. Then, a few years later, those volunteers hosted a fundraiser known as the Used Book Sale. And during that event in 1957, the VNSA brought in around $900. That achievement in turn kick-started a yearly undertaking, in fact – and one that would help the district’s other non-profit charities.
So, from there, the VNSA’s Used Book Sale became a regular fixture in the area during the month of February. It continued, moreover, even after the Visiting Nurse Service amalgamated with an Arizona hospital firm. And following the establishment of that partnership, the organization changed its moniker to the Volunteer Nonprofit Service Association.
All in all, then, the Used Book Sale has proved immensely successful over the decades; since its establishment in the ’50s, the event has raised in excess of $6 million for local causes. And that’s despite the fact that those who participate in the sale aren’t remunerated for their time.
“VNSA is unique among Valley charities in that it is an all-volunteer organization with no paid employees,” reads a statement on the Used Book Sale’s Facebook page. “The 100+ members of VNSA work year round collecting donated books, sorting, pricing and boxing the books and preparing all the details for the annual Book Sale.”
“Members of VNSA donate more than 10,000 hours each year collecting and preparing books for the sale,” the statement continues. “More than 300 non-member volunteers join us to transport books to the Fairgrounds, set up the sale and work during the two-day event.” And that hard work has certainly been paying off in recent times.
During the 2009 sale, you see, there were over 600,000 books available to buy, with the event ultimately raising close to $350,000. In excess of 20,000 people also attended. Perhaps even more impressively, though, the VNSA has donated more than $5 million to charity since 1987.
And among the VNSA’s volunteers is Cathy McAllister – a former teacher who harbors a passion for books. From 2012 she’s been helping her colleagues in Phoenix by sorting through stacks of donated items. Then, after inspecting each book, McAllister makes a decision as to what to do with the item.
“We always look for a book that we can sell,” McAllister told Fox 10 in February 2019. “And so we don’t keep everything. Sometimes we get multiple copies of a book; sometimes it’s a book that doesn’t sell.” Ahead of 2019’s sale, then, she went about her business as usual by sifting through the tomes in front of her.
And, eventually, McAllister stumbled across a copy of a book in the series The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The work was written by Edward Gibbon in the late 1700s, with the historian producing six volumes in all – the last of which was published in 1789. According to McAllister herself, though, Gibbon’s tome was not one that was going to fly off the shelf.
With that in mind, then, McAllister was prepared to discard the book, as she’d done with so many before. “I had the book in my hands, [and] I was ready to toss it,” the volunteer said. “We had several copies already, it was a little tattered around the edges, [and it was] not a big seller. So I was literally [about to throw it out].”
However, McAllister had a sudden change of heart; she chose after all to reassess the condition of the book. “Something [changed],” she admitted to Fox 10. “I thought, ‘Well, it’s not in too bad shape. I’ll just check it.’ Sometimes our books are smoky, and so I fan them out to see if they smell – in which case we would discard them.”
McAllister therefore proceeded to check the work over, taking a closer look at its condition. It was at that point, though, that the former teacher made a quite incredible discovery. “There was a big hole carved out in the book amongst the pages,” she recalled. “I looked down in it, and I thought, ‘That’s Monopoly money! How fun.’”
But that initial assessment was quickly revised as McAllister realized that the hidden cash in the book was in fact real. “I looked again, and I thought, ‘It’s not Monopoly money!’” she continued. “It was all banded like it comes from the bank. It was four packages of $100 bills.”
In the end, then, McAllister discovered that she was holding $4,000 in her hands. And at that point, she looked to share her discovery with the volunteers around her. “I ran speechless to the people working in the category next to me and [said], ‘Look what I found!’” she continued.
But McAllister isn’t the only person to have experienced such a windfall. Back in August 2018, for instance, Jessee Diaz was working his shift at Goodwill in Del Cerro, California. And much like the retired teacher, Diaz had been tasked with sifting through items that had been given to the store.
In addition to that responsibility, Diaz would also check over any electronic devices in the donation boxes to see if they were still functioning properly. When the Goodwill employee stumbled across a tempura fryer, then, he planned on switching it on; firstly, though, he had to make sure that the item was empty.
But as it happens, there was something inside the fryer: a wad of tin foil. And Diaz thought at first about simply discarding the item. “I was about to throw it in the trash, actually,” he informed NBC 7 Responds in September 2018. “I thought it was just trash.” In a similar fashion to McAllister, though, the worker subsequently changed his mind.
Yet while Diaz’s curiosity spurred him on to open the tin foil, he was perhaps unprepared for what he ultimately discovered within. “That’s when I saw five envelopes inside the tin foil with tons of hundreds and fifties,” he explained. Then he took his findings to the manager of the Goodwill store.
After that, Diaz and his manager sorted through the cash, wondering how much was there. Eventually, they found that more than $46,000 had been left in the fryer. This incredible amount therefore spurred the store’s employees on to find the original owner of the item. To that end, they pored over a receipt from the day on which the fryer had been donated. And, finally, they identified the individual who had originally handed the implement over to the store.
Specifically, the donor’s name was Debra Colarusso, although the fryer itself hadn’t actually belonged to her; instead, the previous owner had been her mother-in-law, Michiko. Michiko’s memory had been ailing, and so Colarusso had wanted to make life easier for her relation by clearing away some of the clutter in her home. The donor had had no idea, however, about the money that had been stashed away in the fryer.
And when Colarusso was subsequently invited back to the Goodwill store, she was still in the dark about the cash that she’d inadvertently given away. Company CEO Toni Giffin clued her in on that occasion, though, by saying, “I think you might have donated a little bit more than you anticipated.” After that, Giffin passed $1,000 to Colarusso, who was understandably surprised at the bundle of cash.
“Oh, my goodness,” Colarusso exclaimed before revealing exactly where the money had come from. “It was [my in-laws’] secret squirrel account. When they got paid, they would stash $100 into their secret account to save up for a rainy day.” The shocks didn’t end there, though, as Colarusso was then given a check covering the rest of the amount; the cash itself had already been stowed away.
Naturally, then, Colarusso was taken aback, and it prompted her to hail Diaz for finding the hidden money in the fryer. “We would have had no knowledge of this if it hadn’t been for you,” she told the Goodwill employee. “I don’t know what to say. Thank you so much.”
As for McAllister, she looked to follow suit with the bills that she had discovered inside the book. Unlike the Goodwill employees in California, though, the Arizona resident didn’t have to look far before finding a key piece of information. Instead, upon inspecting the item again, she made a breakthrough.
“When I looked inside the jacket of the book, the owner of the book – I hoped – had put a little address label,” McAllister told Fox 10. “And he had a rather unusual last name. I started working on the internet, and within ten minutes I’d found the family.”
And as the relatives in question lived fairly close to the store, they duly headed back to pick up the $4,000. “Many times, we assume that these are books from an estate,” McAllister explained, “that the owner has probably died and his family have disposed of the book.” Well, that certainly wasn’t the case in this instance.
Indeed, McAllister later recalled, “This gentleman came down with his adult daughter, and she said, ‘Now you can slap him!’” I said, ‘That’s your responsibility!’” The retired teacher revealed, too, that there was something else hidden inside the book that hinted at the money’s true purpose.
In particular, the man had originally planned to bequeath the cash to his four kids. “He’d left a letter in the book as well to the children,” McAllister added. “[It read:] ‘Please share this with…’ and he names a couple of other people. That’s actually how I focused on the right family.”
After having returned the cash to the grateful family, however, McAllister had started to question whether something like this had ever happened before under the VNSA’s staff’s noses. “It does make me wonder how much money we’ve tossed out!” she admitted to Fox 10. “Because we don’t usually look.”
Then, from there, the conversation turned towards McAllister’s initial thoughts regarding the hidden money – specifically, whether she’d ever felt tempted to keep it for herself. The volunteer was quick to shut down any such suggestion, though, saying that the idea had never occurred to her. “How could you sleep at night, right?” she asked.
“[The thought of taking the cash] never crossed our minds,” McAllister continued. “And plus there were witnesses, you know!” That honesty may have paid off in a way, too, as the donor’s children were understandably overjoyed by the find. That said, they also couldn’t help but speculate as to whether their father had made a similar error before.
McAllister added, “I think [the donor’s] children were a bit stunned, and they asked him, ‘Did you do this in another book?’ I actually invited them to come down to our pre-sale before the public sees the books [in case] they wanted to identify any other books that he might’ve done [anything in].”
And McAllister also revealed that while others may have had second thoughts about giving the cash back, it certainly hadn’t been a difficult decision for her. In particular, she credited the way she’d been raised both at home and at church as well as giving a special mention to her mom.
“My values were grounded in our faith,” McAllister said to Fox News in February 2019. “That the church taught us what was right and wrong. It just becomes who you are after a while. In my case, it was my church upbringing and my very strict mother.”
And McAllister’s surprising discovery was subsequently covered by several news websites and TV shows, including The Western Journal and Today. The Used Book Sale’s Facebook page also shared a number of those reports, earning plenty of likes and comments along the way.
As for the sale itself, it proved to be another hugely successful event for VNSA, with more than 13,000 people in attendance during February 2019. Due to those fantastic numbers, the Used Book Sale brought in close to $400,000, adding to the event’s impressive overall total throughout the decades. And just as in previous years, the money raised was subsequently given to charity.
In particular, proceeds from the sales that have taken place since 1987 have benefitted a couple of local charities: Literacy Volunteers of Maricopa County and Arizona Friends of Foster Children Foundation. What’s more, the online reaction to the 2019 figures has also been hugely positive.
The Used Book Sale’s Facebook post confirming the numbers certainly drew a big response on social media, with the update ultimately earning hundreds of likes and plenty of shares. In addition to that, the news also generated a number of comments, as online users hailed the efforts of VNSA. And one message in particular highlighted the importance of the event.
“Thanks to this sale, I got $100+ worth of kids’ books to stock my waiting room at my vision center,” wrote Adrieanne Morey. “A wonderfully diverse group of books that will hopefully get kids and adults interacting while they wait for an eye exam. I love, love, love this sale every year!”