DES MOINES, Iowa – Charity workers hunted through piles of donated clothes at an Iowa warehouse Wednesday, hoping to find $13,000 that an elderly man says he mistakenly left in the pocket of a suit he gave to a Goodwill store in western Illinois.
The 80-year-old Illinois man notified Goodwill of the Heartland last week of his mistake, said Dana Engelbert, vice president of marketing for the charity. Engelbert said the man’s wife has cancer and they had been using the money to offset her medical expenses.
“It’s his life savings and he’s in a difficult situation right now,” Engelbert told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
She said the gray suit was donated to a store in Moline, Ill. It may have been sold at the store, or could have been sent with other clothing to a regional Goodwill warehouse in Iowa City, where non-seasonal items are sent for storage, she said.
The man wasn’t sure when he made the donation, but Goodwill workers were checking back through all clothes dropped off since the last week of October. Engelbert said it was no easy task: More than 575,000 items have been donated in the past year to the Goodwill chapter, which covers southeast Iowa and western Illinois.
Engelbert did not know how many bills may have been in the suit jacket, or the denominations of the cash, but she said the lumps could easily go unnoticed considering the volume of items donated to the charity.
As word of the man’s plight spread, Goodwill has been inundated with calls and emails from people offering assistance.
“It’s been extremely heartwarming, the number of people reaching out to help,” Engelbert said. “The phone at the Moline store rang almost nonstop with people calling about it, and I’ve received emails from as far away as Germany.”
But the man and his family are declining all offers of financial assistance and have asked that they not be identified, Engelbert said.
“Our family would like to thank each and every one of you that have come forward wanting to make a donation to my father for the money he has lost,” the man’s daughter said in a statement provided to WQAD-TV in Moline.
“We are overwhelmed by the outpouring of generosity from around the world. My father’s wishes are to respectfully decline any donations of any kind. He only wanted someone to come forward with the money he gave away by mistake,” she said.
The family is offering a $1,000 reward for the return of the money, Engelbert said.
It’s not unusual for people to find money in donated clothes and return it to the store, but typically no more than $5, Engelbert said.
“We do whatever we can to return it to the owner whenever possible,” she said.
Any unclaimed money usually ends up in the organization’s general operating fund, she said.