We like to imagine that thrift stores are overflowing with great finds — vintage clothes, valuable antiques, cool records — but there’s a lot of junk on the shelves as well. So much, in fact, that none of us would expect to find any lost valuables.
In 2014, three roommates walked into a Salvation Army hoping to find a cheap piece of furniture. And while what they came away with initially seemed like another piece of junk, it turned out to be the bargain for the ages…
As they settled into their new apartment, roommates Lara Russo, Cally Guasti, and Reese Werkhoven had tons of chores to take care of. None of them expected that one routine purchase would lead to the greatest discovery of their young lives.
The trio resided in the charming, old-fashioned town of New Paltz, nestled in New York’s Hudson Valley. Though the community made for a neat place to live, these friends weren’t exactly surrounded by luxury.
Flickr / Amy Wallace
Lara, Cally, and Reese were all either enrolled in college or recently graduated. Most of their income went toward rent and ramen, so any leftover cash had to be invested wisely. One thing they all agreed on was that their apartment desperately needed furniture.
DeviantArt / HanaKyuuri
The twenty-somethings wandered into their local Salvation Army store and inspected their couch selection. They came across some really nice pieces that unfortunately wouldn’t fit in their apartment. Only one would, and it was a doozy.
So, the roommates had no other choice but to lug home the oldest and ugliest couch that the store had to offer. Still, it was only twenty bucks, so they certainly found a bargain, even if it was unsightly.
Lara, Reese, and Cally celebrated by sitting back on their new couch and watching some TV. Some doubts crept through their minds, however. One part of the couch was so uncomfortable. It almost felt like there was something inside of it.
Inspired by this half-serious thought, the roommates began to search through their sofa. Most of its sections simply proved to be lumpy and misshapen. But then Reese froze — he’d found a thick envelope in one of the pillows.
Cally and Lara tore apart the rest of the couch in a frenzy. Within a few seconds, they located a second envelope. And then another. And soon, more — there were envelopes hiding throughout the couch!
Their new sofa lay in pieces, but that didn’t seem to matter. The roommates now had a stack of mysterious packages begging to be opened. Each of them peered inside one, but had no idea how to react. Or, as Reece later put it, “I almost peed.”
Were they seeing things? Each package contained rolls of bills inches thick. Practically every denomination was stuffed in there, from ones up to one hundreds. It would take the roommates a while to count it all up. It was serious a bundle.
Lara, Cally, and Reese both laughed and cried while they counted the bills. Sure, they’d all found loose change between couch cushions before. This type of discovery, on the other hand, defied explanation.
All together, the couch money added up to $41,000! The roomies chattered about how much rent it would cover. Reese mentioned buying his mom a car. Unfortunately, they discovered one final object that threatened to throw a wrench into their plans.
A separate envelope, torn and battered as it was, held a bank deposit slip. The paper contained all sorts of personal information, including a full name — presumably the owner of all that cash.
The trio had a true dilemma on their hands. Although the money would really help them out, the friends agreed the right thing to do would be to return it. But first they had to see if they could track down the owner.
Hoping they weren’t throwing away the windfall of a lifetime, the roommates shared the bank information with the Salvation Army. Against all odds, the charity managed to track down the original owners. There was no backing out now.
The next day, the New Paltzers drove out to the provided address. When they finally arrived, nobody liked what they saw. The house was totally-run down. Multiple “Beware of Dog” signs hung on the fence. Who, the kids wondered, were they about to get involved with?
Much to their relief, an old woman opened the door and welcomed them inside. She spent most of her days alone, as her husband passed away and she retired from her florist shop. She claimed the money was hers — but she’d completely forgot it was in the couch!
Seeing her young visitors scratch their heads, she explained she grew up in a time when people couldn’t trust banks. Instead of putting their life savings in an account, she and her husband stuffed their nest egg into the furniture — until their kids donated it.
New York Magazine
In that moment, the roommates understood the pile of cash wasn’t theirs to take. They returned the money to the elderly woman, who thanked them profusely. She felt so grateful, in fact, that she sprung a surprise on them.
She allowed the roommates to keep $1,000 as a finders’ fee! Though it paled in comparison to the total fortune, a cool grand wasn’t a bad return on a $20 purchase. Naturally, they got to keep the sofa as well.
Still, Lara, Cally, and Reese insist their true reward was returning the retirement savings to their rightful owner. Most others would’ve spent all the cash, or failed to find it at all! But these pals could rest easy — literally and figuratively — knowing they did the right thing.