Ann Arbor Thrift Shop volunteer Sarah Minor says that donated purses, suitcases, and clothing are routinely searched for valuables that donors didn’t realize were there. “Once we received a donation of suitcases where we found jewelry from the Forties and Fifties in a pocket that wasn’t costume jewelry but real gold,” she says. In another suitcase they found WWII military discharge papers. “It turned out the daughter, who’d donated the suitcases after her parents had passed away, didn’t realize they weren’t empty. She had an unusual last name and was a regular donor with a face we recognized.” When contacted, “she came right in, extraordinarily relieved.”

For over eighty years, donors have been asked to leave their name and phone number in notebooks, and Thrift Shop volunteers turn there first to return wayward treasures. If that fails, they’ll keep trying. “In one instance, we found travelers’ checks that been there twenty years, and we were able to track the donor by the name on them. Money is difficult to return unless there’s an ID. We’ve also found estate-planning materials and called the attorney on the document.”

Volunteer Helen Hall recalls that about five years ago “a wonderful customer brought up a book and said, ‘Look what I just found.’ Inside there were $2,000 U.S. bonds that had been issued by a local bank to a man with a local address. The husband of one of our members was a former corporate treasurer. He wrote to the man, explained what happened, and asked what should be done with them. It turned out the owner was in Florida and had been securing the bonds for his granddaughter’s college education. We arranged to meet his daughter, who’d donated a box of books [where the bonds were hidden] when she was moving, and granddaughter, who was a freshman at Eastern. They were extremely appreciative.”

Over her fifteen years at the Kiwanis Thrift Sale jewelry counter, Meg Stephensen has found a few pricey baubles, among them a platinum ring valued at $900. “The donor had thought it was silver. We were able to contact her, but she decided to leave it as a very generous donation.” Stephensen also remembers finding a Purple Heart medal: “We sent it back to the military, who identified its owner and returned it to the family.”

Harry Cross recently retired from his twenty-plus years of managing the Kiwanis books and records department. “Maybe five years ago, there was a box of books with two family picture albums. Fortunately, one of the pictures had a name and phone number that was still good. The man that answered told me a tale about a family member getting picked up for a parole violation and all his stuff [including the albums] being set out on the curb by his landlord. It turned out my sister had gone to school with some of the man’s relatives, so we were able to easily return the albums. We got a real nice letter from the guy … thanking us for getting the pictures back to his family.”

Though it wasn’t hidden, Cross also spotted a unique item in the donation stream: a recording that Nicolas Guillen, the poet laureate of revolutionary Cuba, had made directly to a blank vinyl disk. Cross’s research led him to Guillen’s grandson and the Nicolas Guillen Foundation in Havana. “It’s not the kind of thing you want to send in the mail,” he says, “so I had a friend deliver it when she went to Cuba in November.”

“A Kentucky woman called after accidentally donating her father’s coin collection,” recalls Ann Arbor PTO Thrift Shop manager Paulette Brown. The woman had been in town to clear out her father’s home. “We were able to find it in a big box of things, identify it, and send it back to her. She responded with a nice donation back to us.

“Yeah, we’ve found some stuff,” says Habitat for Humanity ReStore’s former floor manager, Mackenzie Farlie. “Checkbooks and some inappropriate stuff you probably don’t want to know about.”

Assured that we do, she shares, “We’ve found dirty magazines and movies. We once found a bra in a medicine cabinet.”