A reader lives a thousand lives through the pages of a book. If you’re an avid bookworm, then you probably understand why reading is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Reading not only keeps you mentally stimulated but it also allows you to improve your memory. Books are treasure troves of knowledge, indeed. But sometimes they may come with hidden gems underneath their plain-looking covers.Books are a crucial part of our lives. But when you want to donate them, where are you supposed to go? For some reason, getting rid of our beloved books is no easy task. But every now and then, we feel the need to declutter our homes from novels and books we have already read twice. So where do you go?
There are many volunteer organizations that accept book donations and clothes. Volunteer Nonprofit Service Association Inc. is one of them. The Phoenix, Arizona group of volunteers work all year long handling donations and collecting more than 600,000 books from donors. For some, the VNSA is “the largest charity used book sale in the Southwest.”
Once they receive a large number of books, the group of 130+ volunteers makes sure to sort them out, price them, and get them ready for the big event that takes place every February. Cathy McAllister, a retired schoolteacher is among this pristine group of volunteers who get the books ready for their February sale. Cathy pretty much runs the show. She coordinates all the other volunteers and making sure every link in the chain runs smoothly throughout the event, like a well-oiled machine.
They make sure to supply people with affordable books while raising money at the same time for local charities such as the Literacy Volunteers of Maricopa County and the Arizona Friends of Foster Children Foundation. Right before the 2019 book sale, Cathy found herself volunteering once again.
She was going through a pile of books when suddenly, she stumbled upon a beaten-down version of Edward Gibbon’s “The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire” which really caught her eye. All things considered, the book was in pretty good condition, but Cathy had already found three of these books in the past and they were less worn down. Clearly, the book needed to be repurposed so she threw it in the “repurposing” pile.
Being a major bookworm herself, Cathy couldn’t shake the feeling that a perfectly good book like that should not be discarded just like that. Before she tossed the book for good, she decided to check to see if it was truly unsalvageable. Much to her surprise, she noticed there was something stuck between the pages.
When Cathy opened the cover, she realized there was a hollowed out portion of the book that seemed to be hiding something. Clearly, someone had fetched a knife and carefully carved a significant space in order to stash something inside.
Unbeknownst to her, the book Cathy was holding in her hands was hiding a little secret. She told Bookstr, “I had the book in my hands.” But as she was getting ready to throw it in the “repulping” pile, she had a change of heart. She said, “I was ready to toss it because we had several copies already…but when I fanned that book out, there’s a big hole carved out in the book amongst the pages…” That’s when Cathy realized there was something hidden inside the hollowed out space, and whatever it was, it kind of looked like bills.
At first glance, Cathy figured out she had found a stash of Monopoly money inside the book. Maybe a child had shoved it inside. Perhaps, they were playing a trick on someone or it was part of a scavenger hunt. But when she reached out and pulled out the “monopoly” money, her heart started racing. The money was real. Cathy was holding legit $100 dollar bills in her hands.
Inside the book, Cathy found a total of four packages that were banded the same way a bank does when you withdraw money. Each of these little packages contained ten $100 dollar bills. For some reason, someone had decided to stash $4,000 inside the “The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire” book. Cathy couldn’t help but wonder if the original owner was even looking for this money.
“Wow. This is enough money to fund a supplemental charity,” said Cathy as soon as she composed herself after the initial shock.Cathy didn’t even think about keeping the money, as she felt it didn’t align with her faith. “My values were grounded in our faith,” she added.
The thought of keeping the money all to herself wasn’t something that would’ve even crossed her mind. Cathy’s views were deeply grounded in her faith. She explained that “The church taught us what was right and wrong. It just becomes who you are after a while.” All religious beliefs aside, anyone in her position would’ve been inclined to try to find the rightful owners. After all, they could’ve been looking for it already. Now, Cathy needed to find a way to track them down.
Fortunately, the planets aligned and Cathy found clues that would help her track the owners. Inside the book, she found a family letter that was addressed to the owner’s children and their spouses. Luckily, the letter also featured the name of its previous owner.
The previous owner had a unique last name which made tracking them down a bit easier. Cathy ended up putting her FBI skills to the test by doing a little digging around online. Fortunately, she didn’t have to wait too long. After only a few minutes, she tracked them down. Apparently, the money belonged to an unsuspecting man and his daughter who were about to get the shock of their lives.
Cathy agreed to meet up with the owner’s son-in-law who quickly made arrangements for the family to pick up the money. Cathy would’ve loved to meet the family at her place, but she was working at the warehouse, trying to work on the finishing touches before the show. Funnily enough, the man’s father-in-law didn’t even remember he’d stashed the money inside the book in the first place.
The family was thrilled and beyond grateful that Cathy had gone above and beyond trying to find them. And now, they felt like it was their turn to give back and spread some kindness by making a large donation to the Volunteer Nonprofit Service Association. Soon enough, the story spread like wildfire.
Unsurprisingly, locals and news stations took an interest in the story, and they wasted no time asking questions. Cathy’s selfless actions sort of turned her into an internet celebrity overnight. Some people were interested in knowing what made her want to look for the rightful owners instead of keeping the money to herself. Cathy simply responded, “I don’t know how you would sleep at night.”
The annual VNSA book sale finally opened its doors on February 9, 2019. The volunteers were curious to know how people would react after the media broke Cathy’s story. Would customers start looking through every book to see if there was money stashed inside?
But people seemed to be unaffected by the story. While they were touched to see kindness spreading around in the world, they were too busy looking for a great deal on some used books. “I don’t think that anybody else will find $4000 in a book. But books are a great gift, with or without $4000,” said Cathy.
For 63 years, The Volunteer Nonprofit Service Association has been raising funds to donate to community programs. The VNSA opened its doors in 1949, and ever since then, they’ve been saving and repurposing books and reselling them at great prices. According to the nonprofit organization’s site, “The dollars donated to community programs has increased significantly over the years. Since the first VNSA Used Book Sale in 1957, VNSA has returned more than $5,300,000 to local nonprofit human service agencies in our community.” Clearly, we need more organizations willing to spread around the love for books and more selfless people like Cathy McCallister.