8 Accidental Charitable Donations

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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Ben Leuner, AMC
You Can Cook (Food) With Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul in the Original Breaking Bad RV
Ben Leuner, AMC
Ben Leuner, AMC

A new contest is giving Breaking Bad fans the chance to cook a meal with Walter White and Jesse Pinkman. A new charity fundraising campaign is sending one lucky fan and a friend out to Los Angeles to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Breaking Bad’s premiere with the stars themselves—Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, and that beat-up RV.

“That’s right, the real Walter White and Jesse Pinkman will join you in The Krystal Ship to whip up some delicious food, take tons of pictures, and bond over the most addicting show ever made,” the contest’s page on the charity fundraising site Omaze trumpets.

All you have to do to throw your (porkpie) hat in the ring is break out your wallet and donate to a good cause. Every dollar you donate to the contest through Omaze is basically a raffle ticket. And the more you donate, the better your odds are of winning. Each dollar donated equals 10 entries, so if you donate $10, you have 100 chances, if you donate $25, 250 chances, etc. At higher donation levels, you’ll also get guaranteed swag, including T-shirts, signed set photos by Cranston and Paul, props and scripts from the show, and more.

Technically, you can enter without donating, but don’t be a jerk—it’s for the kids. The proceeds from the contest will go to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Kind Campaign, an anti-bullying charity.

The contest winner will be announced around September 12, and the big event will take place on September 15.

Donate to win here. The contest ends at 11:59 p.m. PT on August 30.

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Kars4Kids, YouTube
The Cruel (But Effective) Agony of the Kars4Kids Jingle
Kars4Kids, YouTube
Kars4Kids, YouTube

It can happen suddenly and without warning. Driving in your vehicle, a commercial break comes on. In addition to the standard pleas to use a specific laundry detergent or contemplate debt consolidation, the voice of a preadolescent, out-of-tune child materializes. Your grip on the steering wheel gets tighter. The child begins to warble:

1-877-Kars-4-Kids, K-A-R-S Kars for Kids, 1-EIGHT-SEVEN-SEVEN-Kars-4-Kids, Donate Your Car Today …

An adult breaks in to repeat the lyrics. The two begin to sing in unison:

1-877-Kars-4-Kids, K-A-R-S Kaaaaars for Kiiiids…Donate Your Car Today!

In roughly a minute, it’s over. You go on with your day. But the song’s repetitive melody sticks to your brain like sap. You hear it when preparing dinner. While brushing your teeth. As you put your head on the pillow. When it's finally worked its way out of your brain and you've started to forget, it reappears.

The song is engineered to be obnoxious. And its producers wouldn't have it any other way.

 
 

Since 1999, an untold number of Americans have found themselves reduced to mewling heaps of distress following exposure to the Kars4Kids jingle. The 501(c) nonprofit organization based in Lakewood, New Jersey, spends up to $17 million annually making sure this earwig of a commercial is played across the country. While the purpose is not expressly to annoy you, the fact that the song is irritating is what makes it memorable. And successful. And more than a little controversial.

Kars4Kids began in 1995 as a way to capitalize on the trend of automotive owners donating their unwanted cars in exchange for a tax deduction. Owners who donate their vehicles are able to get an IRS write-off—though typically for only a percentage of the current value—if they declare it a charitable donation. Kars4Kids arranges for the vehicle to be towed away and sold at auction, with proceeds going to afterschool and summer programs for students.

According to the organization, business was slow until one of their volunteers had an idea to craft a commercial song. The melody was purchased from a singer and songwriter named Country Yossi, and Kars4Kids enlisted a child to perform it at an in-house recording session. It debuted in the New York market in 1999, and spread like the plague to the West Coast by 2005 and nationally by 2007.

Aside from Yossi, however, the company has repeatedly declined to identify anyone else involved with creating the song. The reason? Death threats. The tune has apparently enraged people to the point of contemplating murder. Speaking to SanFranciscoGate.com in 2016, music cognition expert Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis said that the combination of repetitive structure and the overly simplistic message was engineered to grate the listener's nerves.

“This simple melodic line is also probably responsible for some of the annoyance,” she said. “These kinds of three and four note lines are often the ones specially crafted for kids learning how to play instruments ... It probably conjures up associations of painful practice sessions.”

 
 

The line between irritating and memorable is often blurry. Kars4Kids has repeatedly pointed to the song as being effective in driving telephone traffic to their number. When they debuted a television commercial in 2014—complete with lip-syncing kids who subsequently got bullied for their participation in the spot—donations went up by 50 percent. To date, the company has received 450,000 cars. In 2017, contributions totaled $39 million.

Surprisingly, people have reserved animosity for something other than the commercial. In 2017, Minnesota's attorney general chastised Kars4Kids for not making it clear to donors that many of the children who benefit from the fundraising are located in the northeast: Kids in Minnesota received just $12,000 of the $3 million raised in that state. Other times, the organization has been criticized for leaving information out of their solicitations. In 2009, both Pennsylvania and Oregon fined the charity for failing to disclose a religious affiliation. (Most of the funds raised go toward Orthodox Jewish groups.) Oregon’s Department of Justice said that Kars4Kids needed to disclose such information in its ads.

Those speed bumps aside, the jingle shows no signs of leaving the airwaves any time soon. Rather than run from the negative response, Kars4Kids marinates in it, sharing hateful diatribes from others on social media.

“Newer people join the [media] team and when they are first exposed to the level of hatred on Twitter they'll be like, 'Are you sure you think this is a good idea that we should keep on playing this?,'" Wendy Kirwan, Kars4Kids’s director of public relations, told Billboard in 2016. “And we've looked at that time and again, and we've come to the conclusion that it's definitely worth sticking with.”

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