Sean Currey was sifting through a rusty dumpster behind a coffee shop in San Rafael, Calif., when he spotted something unusual.

Currey, 57, is homeless and has been — on and off — for several years. He regularly rummages through dumpsters outside shopping plazas and grocery stores, hoping to salvage some food or discarded goods.

But amid his forage that day, Currey found a small, floral-patterned fabric pouch packed with credit cards.

He examined the wallet, and after a quick peek at the cards within it, he uncovered its owner. The handmade zippered pouch belonged to an 80-year-old woman, he learned, who lives about six miles away, in Mill Valley, Calif.

Evelyn Topper’s contact information was printed on a business card he found inside the wallet, which also contained her driver’s license, roadside assistance card, several debit and credit cards, plus health-care cards.

Currey — who works in construction and building maintenance and has mostly been unemployed during the pandemic — decided to call the wallet’s rightful owner.

“I would want someone to do the same thing for me if I lost my wallet,” Currey said. “I knew this woman was probably beside herself not knowing where all her stuff was.”

He was right. Topper said she was distraught before she got his call.

She had stopped by Kamson Coffee on Dec. 9 to pick up a decaf chai tea latte, as well as a bubble tea to deliver to her 12-year-old granddaughter. After paying for the two beverages, Topper tucked her wallet into her vest pocket, which she forgot to zip up. When she got home, her pocket was empty, and the wallet was nowhere to be found.

“I called the coffee shop immediately,” said Topper, who was told the wallet was not there.

Then, “I tore apart my car and my house. I knew it must have dropped somewhere in the parking lot,” she said.

Topper had just about lost all hope when an unknown number popped up on her phone. She hesitantly answered.

“Is this Evelyn Topper?” a voice said at the other end of the line. It was Currey, who explained that he had found her wallet in the dumpster, and that he would like to return it to her.

“I started screaming. I couldn’t believe it,” Topper said.

She immediately got in her car and met Currey at the parking lot of a nearby shopping center, where he regularly spends the night, cramped in his Chevy Tahoe.

Currey handed Topper her wallet in the parking lot, and she passed him a bit of money to reinforce her appreciation.

It just so happened to be the first night of Hanukkah, and Topper, who is Jewish, told Currey why his act of kindness was particularly meaningful to her that day.

“In all of this flurry of conversation with Sean, I tried to explain to him what a mitzvah is,” Topper said, using the Hebrew word for good deed. “I said, ‘You don’t know what this means to me to get this.’ Yes, it’s a physical thing, but it’s the act itself.”

During the car ride home after retrieving her wallet, Topper called her daughter and granddaughter to tell them the good news.

Her family was excited too, especially her granddaughter Mikayla Gounard, who got an idea shortly after speaking with her grandmother that night.

Mikayla’s 12th birthday was approaching, and in lieu of gifts, she wanted to raise money for an organization. She initially debated between a few different charities, but when she learned about Currey’s kindness, she decided to ask friends and family for donations to support him. His good deed, she decided, should come full circle.

She and her mother, Vanessa Topper, called Currey to ask him if he would be comfortable with them raising money for him at Mikayla’s drive-by birthday party on Dec. 22.

“I choked up and got a tear,” said Currey. “I felt very humbled and special that they would go out of their way to do that for me.”

Currey has struggled with homelessness for about five years, he said, but has never been without shelter for as long as he has in recent months. He caught pneumonia at the beginning of the pandemic and was hospitalized. Once he recovered, he managed to stay in government housing for about four months, but since then, he has been living in his car.

“I’m working as much as I can with the pandemic, doing handyman stuff where I can. But it’s hard without having a home base,” he explained. “Not having shelter is not a good feeling at all.”

That is why, for just a fleeting moment, he thought about using the credit cards in the wallet.

“I can’t say I didn’t think about it, but only for a second. Anybody in the position of being homeless and cold and tired and hungry, if they found a credit card, they’re going to think about it,” Currey said. “But whether you’re going to act on it is two different things.”

“I would rather be cold and hungry and know that I did the right thing,” he continued.

On the day of Mikayla’s drive-by birthday party, she and her mother set up a small table on their driveway and showcased a photo of Currey beside a money bowl.

“We raised $475 for him, and people are still calling and writing to us, wanting to see how else they can help,” said Vanessa Topper, who created a GoFundMe page to support Currey through the pandemic.

The day after the drive-by party, Mikayla and her mother went to meet Currey at a parking lot to deliver the money.

“I got to see him smile, and it made me really happy,” Mikayla said.

Currey, who was not expecting any financial reward for returning the wallet, said he was warmed by the family’s commitment to helping him get by during a difficult time.

“I was just so touched. It was refreshing, knowing that people her age want to help,” he said.

Beyond the money, though, Currey is grateful that his good deed propelled someone else to do good, too.

“I believe I have a good heart. Maybe, if I keep doing the right thing, more people will too, and it will change the world, in a small way, for the better,” he said.

Read more:

Have a story for Inspired Life? Here’s how to submit.