In the summer of 2017, a thrift store employee in New York opened up a donated bag and simply couldn’t believe what she had found inside. But given the contents of the purse, she also had a serious moral dilemma on her hands. Should she keep the contents for herself, or do the right thing and hand them in?
Up until that point, though, it had been a relatively ordinary shift for 51-year-old Kindell Keyes. She works as an assistant manager at the Goodwill store on Van Dam Street in New York City. Goodwill itself, meanwhile, is an international non-profit organization that provides training and careers for people with barriers to employment. It raises money through its thrift stores by selling all sorts of donated goods.
And sale proceeds made by the Goodwill social enterprise make their way back into the community in a variety of ways. People with disabilities and those less fortunate in other ways receive help to “find work, gain independence and build careers and better lives,” according to the charity’s website.
It is this community spirit, moreover, that drives the organization and its employees forwards. And it is possible that no other Goodwill worker has embodied the non-profit’s ethos better than Keyes did that day. At first, though, she was diligently going about her daily duties at the store.
Then, as the assistant manager was sorting through some recently donated goods, she reached into a nondescript shopping bag and pulled out a purse. Thinking that the modest-looking black handbag was unusually heavy, Keyes subsequently decided to check if there was anything inside. That’s when she made the incredible discovery.
What’s more, the middle-aged woman opened the purse to find something you would reasonably expect to see in such an item – just not in such large quantities. And the discovery was so unbelievable that at first Keyes just didn’t think it could be real. In fact, the Goodwill worker thought that she was being pranked by unseen tricksters.
Speaking at a special Goodwill event in September 2017, Keyes said that she had jokingly thought “What if there’s money in here?” before she opened up the black bag. But then, as she looked inside the purse, she realized that her suspicions had been correct. And what she found wasn’t just a bit of small change, either.
Specifically, Keyes found a number of envelopes inside the donated bag. Then, after investigating further, she determined that there were wads of dollars in various denominations stuffed inside the envelopes. Initially, though, she was suspicious, and her only thought was that someone was playing a trick on her.
“I thought, ‘Okay, I’m getting punked.’ I really thought I was getting punked,” Keyes told The Huffington Post in September 2017. But then when no-one jumped out holding a camera, the Goodwill employee realized that she was wrong. And while a lot of people would have kept very quiet about the discovery, Keyes was honest about it and went to tell her manager Sal Ciniglio.
So, together, Keyes and Ciniglio sat down to count up the cash. And as they made their way methodically through all of the envelopes in the handbag, it became very clear very quickly that they were dealing with a huge amount of money.
In fact, each envelope that the pair opened contained higher value bills than the last. Once Ciniglio had finalized the cash count, moreover, the donated bag had yielded a grand total of $39,000. This represented a huge sum, considering that the median average annual wage in the U.S. is about $44,000. But the money is not all that the Goodwill workers found in the mysterious purse.
They also unearthed an address on a scrap of paper at the bottom of the bag, which corresponded to the home of a woman in Queens, New York. As a result, Maria Torres, director of retail at the local Goodwill, went to the address to try return the money to its rightful owner. Sadly, however, the woman concerned had recently died.
But after consulting with the woman’s former neighbors in Queens, Torres found out that the deceased had relatives. She discovered, for example, that the woman’s grandson – named only as Bryan – was living in California. The neighbors said that they would pass on Torres’ phone number; and, within time, the bereaved grandchild got in touch.
Furthermore, Bryan would meet with Keyes at the specially convened Goodwill event in September 2017. The organization also filmed the moment in which his grandmother’s money was returned to him, with the resulting footage later uploaded to YouTube. And in the clip, Bryan shed some light on how the purse may have ended up at the thrift store. It turned out, for example, that time had been a factor when it came to clearing his grandmother’s home.
Indeed, Bryan would explain that he and his family must have overlooked the handbag in the general rush to deal with her effects and get back home. He also cited the fact that his 101-year-old grandmother had lived through the Depression and implied that she therefore had a mistrust of banks. So, bearing all this in mind, a significant amount of cash stuffed in an old purse made some kind of sense.
Plus, it was abundantly clear that Bryan was aware of just how differently the story could have turned out. “It’s so good to know that there’s people like Keyes in the world [that are] honest, and it’s just remarkable,” he said at the Goodwill meeting organized to honor the employee’s act. Bryan further remarked that the whole experience had humbled him and that he was “very grateful” for Keyes’ actions.
But Keyes also had a humble attitude towards the unusual incident. “The way I looked at it, [the money] wasn’t mine anyway,” she said straightforwardly. “It was found on Goodwill property and this had a name, so it meant that it belonged to someone,” she continued.
However, Katy Gaul-Stigge, the president of Goodwill in Greater New York and Northern New Jersey, was not willing to let Keyes’ behavior go by unheralded. In fact, Gaul-Stigge wanted to reward her employee for her actions, especially as plenty of people in the world would have simply pocketed the money for themselves.
So the Goodwill president organized the celebratory meeting. “Good behavior is recognized,” Gaul-Sigge announced as she awarded Keyes with a bonus of $3,900. This represented 10 percent of the sum that the assistant manager had found in the donated purse. But, for her part, and despite Gaul-Sigge calling her a “hero,” Keyes herself would remain modest about her actions.
“You do good, good things happen to you,” Keyes explained to the Miami Herald in September 2017. But whether you believe in karma or not, most people would agree on one thing: this particular Goodwill employee deserves whatever good fortune happens to come her way in the future.