Early one morning, Kevin Booth, who is homeless, was hungry. So he went to his local food bank in Sumner, Wash., looking for the bread that is left outside overnight for people to take.
But instead of the bread box, a brown paper bag outside the front door caught his attention that morning late last summer. Perhaps it held food. So Booth opened the bag, and saw it was filled with cash — $17,000.
“At first, I was like, what the heck is that lying on the ground?” Booth, 32, said in an interview with the local newspaper, the News Tribune.
He looked inside and saw stacks of money, then slid out a $20 bill.
“Of course, I sniffed it to see if it was real,” he told the News Tribune.
It smelled legitimate.
“Then I was like, do I take off or do I stay?” he told the paper.
He didn’t know how much cash was there at the time, but he knew it wasn’t his.
So he hung around the Sumner Community Food Bank until it opened about 20 minutes later, and he handed the treasure bag to a volunteer who cracked the door for him at 7:30 a.m.
“He said, ‘This is for you, somebody left it on your doorstep,’” Anita Miller, director of the Sumner Food Bank, said in an interview with The Washington Post.
The volunteer initially thought it was food and weighed the package, as is routine for all food donations. She quickly realized something was amiss and called police. Inside were neat stacks of $20 and $100 bills.
Sumner police showed up, took possession of the money and opened an investigation. Nobody knew where the bag had come from, and the food bank’s security camera was not functioning properly so it did not pick up any useful information.
“It’s strange for someone to leave a bunch of money like that outside a food bank,” said Sumner police officer Marcus McDonald in an interview with The Washington Post.
Investigators checked with nearby police departments, they looked into any robberies in the area, they checked for suicidal people who may have withdrawn a large sum. They came up empty, McDonald said.
Last week, after the required 90 days had passed and nobody else claimed the loot, police gave it back to the Sumner Community Food Bank in a ceremony in which they also presented Booth with a citizen’s citation for his honesty.
Police Chief Brad Moericke presented the citation to Booth.
“Not every citizen would be as honest as you in this situation,” Moericke told him, according to the News Tribune.
The food bank also is giving him a reward to thank him.
McDonald said many officers, including him, know Booth to be a good guy who sometimes hangs out with a rough crowd. To protect him, the food bank decided it will give him various gift cards over time rather than a lump sum of cash as a reward.
Miller, the food bank director, said she and other volunteers at the food bank have known Booth for years, and they plan to help him through the winter. Miller said Booth lives in a tent in nearby woods, and has turned down her offers of shelter.
“We’ll be able to get coats or shoes for him,” Miller said. “He will not take a room and board, he turns down inside living.”
The food pantry serves about 1,000 people a month in Sumner, a city of about 10,000 people. Anyone is allowed to go in and pick up meat, produce and other goods at no charge. Additionally, each Friday, volunteers deliver 500 backpacks full of food to schoolchildren who take them home for the weekend.
Miller said the newfound funds will go toward buying a walk-in refrigerator and freezer for the food bank’s planned expansion. She said she and the rest of the staff are grateful for Booth’s integrity and decency.
“He said, ‘That was a real big decision for me, but if it’s not yours, you shouldn’t be taking it,’” Miller said. “He’s a very honest man.”
For his part, Booth told the News Tribune: “There are a lot of people who would have taken it. I’m just not that person.”