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8 Accidental Charitable Donations

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You know how you hold on to some stupid kitchen item for like eight years, then decide that you’ve used it once and donate it to Goodwill? Then the next week, you find yourself in critical need of that garlic press for the first time since the Clinton administration?

Now imagine that garlic press was worth $13,000.

People accidentally give away family heirlooms or other valuables surprisingly often. Here are eight of those stories — some with happy endings, and others where people wish they'd never cleaned out their closets.

1. An 80-year-old Illinois man was getting rid of some clothes and decided a suit was past its prime. After he dropped it and other discarded items off at Goodwill and went home to enjoy his decluttered house, the man realized he had made a $13,000 mistake. Not trusting the banks, he had sewn his entire life savings in the lining of an old suit - the suit he had decided to donate just hours earlier. He immediately returned to the store, but the suit was nowhere to be found. He’s still looking for it, actually. Photo via Goodwill.org.

2. Last summer, a worker at a Goodwill near Chicago was sorting through a bunch of jewelry donations when she found a metal bracelet stamped with “CMS CHARLES D. KING, 25 DEC 68.” Suspecting it might be a POW/MIA bracelet from Vietnam, the worker researched Charles King and discovered he had a sister living in Iowa. When the jewelry was returned to King’s sister, an amazing coincidence was discovered: she also worked at Goodwill.

3. If you’re shopping at a Goodwill in Illinois, be sure to check the pockets of the clothes, because apparently valuables are left at thrift stores in the Land of Lincoln quite often. In 2008, a worker at a store in Glen Carbon discovered $7,500 in cash stashed in a donated shoebox.

By inspecting some other bits of paper left in the box, they were able to locate the donor. His parents had recently died and had thrown the box in the “to donate” pile without inspecting its contents.

4. In 2010, a Goodwill in Maple Grove, Minnesota, found a stack of cash in the pocket of a donated coat. Spokespeople wouldn’t reveal exactly how much was found, but said that finding an amount this large was quite rare. No word on if the accidental donor was ever found.

5. Unintentional gifts happen at the Salvation Army, too. A bride-to-be in San Diego hollowed out a book to use as a hiding place for jewelry she intended to wear at her upcoming wedding, including a family heirloom. She also stashed about $7,000 along with it. Perhaps on a cleaning spree to make room for wedding gifts, the bride cleared out a bunch of books and donated them to a Salvation Army trailer. She called as soon as she realized her mistake, and with the help of a Salvation Army major, managed to locate her missing valuables.

6. In 2005, a family donated most of their recently deceased grandmother’s possessions to the Salvation Army in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. The only thing they decided to keep was a diary. When they got around to flipping through the diary several weeks after making the donation, they discovered she had hidden a large amount of cash in plastic Easter eggs, intending to surprise her family with an Easter egg hunt they would never forget. She passed away before Easter and the eggs were donated, presumably with a number of other holiday knickknacks the family didn’t even think twice about. As far as I can tell, the eggs were never returned.

7. Let this be a lesson to those of you who like to clean out your significant others’ closets when they’re not home. One Colorado wife did just that, and when her husband discovered that his wardrobe was a little lighter, he became quite distraught. Apparently his hidey hole was an old wallet in the pocket of a pair of ancient Levi's, and his wife had inadvertently donated a “two-inch thick” stack of bills to the Salvation Army. Luckily, the pair was able to get back to the store and locate their bags before workers had even started sorting through them.

8. Compared to some of these stories, a missing book worth $400 doesn’t seem like much of a crisis. But when it’s a family heirloom with a personalized inscription on the inside cover, the loss really stings. A man accidentally donated the book “The Grim Glory of the 2/19 Battalion AIF” to a local book fair. It contained a story about his father, a field doctor with the battalion during WWII, and a handwritten dedication to his dad from the book’s editor. The book fair’s coordinator discovered the book and knew it must have been accidentally donated. She was able to find the owner and return it nearly a month after it was donated.

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Animals
Los Angeles's Top Architects Design Pet Shelters to Benefit Homeless Cats
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Los Angeles design firms Abramson Teiger Architects, d3architecture, and KnowHow Shop are known for producing some of the city's most distinct examples of architecture. But for this year’s “Giving Shelter” event in Culver City, local architects were tasked with designing structures on a much smaller scale than what they’re used to. Each piece auctioned off at the fundraiser was built with feline inhabitants in mind, and the proceeds from the night went to benefit homeless cats in the area.

L.A. is home to one of the largest stray cat populations in the country, with between 1 and 3 million cats living on the streets. Each year, architects involved with the group Architects for Animals design innovative shelters to raise money for FixNation, a nonprofit organization that spays and neuters the city's homeless cats. This year, the cat homes that were showcased included bird houses, AC vents, and a giant ball of yarn.

Shelter for a cat.

Shelter for a cat.

Shelter for a cat.

Shelter for a cat.

Shelter for a cat.

Shelter for a cat.

Shelter for a cat.

Shelter for a cat.

Shelter for a cat.

Shelter for a cat.

Anyone who’s familiar with Architects for Animals shouldn’t be surprised by the creativity of this year’s entries. Last year’s Giving Shelter event included a Brutalist interpretation of a classic tête-à-tête seat.

All images courtesy of MeghanBobPhotography / Architects for Animals

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Big Questions
What Happens to the Losing Team's Pre-Printed Championship Shirts?
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Following a big win in the World Series, Super Bowl, NBA Finals, or any other major sporting event, fans want to get their hands on championship merchandise as quickly as possible. To meet this demand and cash in on the wallet-loosening "We’re #1" euphoria, manufacturers and retailers produce and stock two sets of T-shirts, hats and other merchandise that declare each team the champ.

Apparel for the winning team quickly fills clothing racks and gets tossed to players on the field. But what happens to the losing team's clothing?

Depending on the outcome of Game 7 Wednesday evening, boxes of shirts erroneously emblazoned with either the Houston Astros's or Los Angeles Dodgers's logos and "World Series Champions" proclamations are destined for charity. "We donate the product," Matt Bourne, vice president of business public relations for Major League Baseball, tells Mental Floss.

Donating to the disadvantaged is par for the course for most of the major sports leagues, although MLB briefly changed their policy up in 2016 and ordered the losing team's apparel destroyed after concerns it might find its way into the secondary market.

Bourne didn't elaborate on why MLB returned to its previous protocol, but it may have something to do with the sheer volume of usable clothing generated by having to anticipate two possible outcomes. Based on strong sales after the Chicago Bears’s 2007 NFC Championship win, for example, Sports Authority printed more than 15,000 shirts proclaiming a Bears Super Bowl victory well before the game even started. And then the Colts beat the Bears, 29-17. 

For almost two decades, an international humanitarian aid group called World Vision collected the unwanted items for MLB and NFL runners-up at its distribution center in Pittsburgh, then shipped them overseas to people living in disaster areas and impoverished nations. After losing Super Bowl XLIII in 2009, Arizona Cardinals gear was sent to children and families in El Salvador. In 2010, after the New Orleans Saints defeated Indianapolis, the Colts gear printed up for Super Bowl XLIV was sent to earthquake-ravaged Haiti.

In 2011, after Pittsburgh lost to the Green Bay Packers, the Steelers Super Bowl apparel went to Zambia, Armenia, Nicaragua, and Romania.

Beginning in 2015, after 19 years with World Vision, the NFL started working with Good360. After New England defeated Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX, Seahawks gear was distributed in Azerbaijan and Georgia.

In 2016, Good360 chief marketing officer Shari Rudolph told Mental Floss that details about the products available for donation will be sent to Good360 about a week after the Super Bowl ends. They'll notify their nonprofit partners and determine who needs what. Beginning this year, Good360 will also handle the discarded MLB clothing.

"Once they request the product, it is shipped to a domestic location and stored within their facilities until they have enough product (through Good360 and other sources) to fill a container," Rudolph said. "Then it is shipped overseas and distributed to people in need."

Fans of the World Series team that comes up short can take heart: At least the spoils of losing will go to a worthy cause.

An earlier version of this story appeared in 2009. Additional reporting by Jake Rossen.

All images courtesy of World Vision, unless otherwise noted.

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