They say that books are treasure troves of knowledge. Those who enjoy reading, the educated, and erudite, obviously know this to be true. As valuable as this knowledge is, it does not possess any sort of material value.
Though, there are rare cases where a book can actually contain a treasure of a different kind. This is one such case. It is the story of a volunteer at a used book sale who found an unexpected treasure beneath the cover of a rather plain-looking book…
There are a number of volunteer organizations out there that deal in things like clothing donation and the sale of remained books. Volunteer Nonprofit Service Association, Inc., a volunteer group located in Phoenix, Arizona, is one such organization. Books are their main business and it’s books that have made them successful.
Big Book Fair
More than 130 volunteers at the VNSA work all year round to prepare for what is considered by many to be “the largest charity used book sale in the Southwest.” The organization collects more than 600,000 books from an assortment of sources, many of them local donors. Once they’re in, the volunteers, sort, price, and prepare them for the February event…
Retired schoolteacher Cathy McAllister has been a part of VNSA since 2012. Her duties in this regard involve working throughout the year to help prep the books for their February sale and acting as personnel chair for the sale itself. This means that she helps coordinate all the other volunteers that help out before, during, and after the event.
It was before the 2019 book sale and Cathy once again found herself sitting amidst a towering pile of books and sorting through them to ensure that they’ll be in good enough condition to resell. As she was sorting, she came upon a battered, abridged version of Edward Gibbon’s “The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire.” It was peculiar for a number of reasons…
One of Three
The slightly battered book was in fair condition but it was one of four volumes she had already found, and she’d saved three of those already. The other couple had been much more gently used as well. Though she didn’t like doing it, she had done this long enough to know that the only remaining option was to throw it into the pile for repurposing.
An avid book lover herself, Cathy felt guilty about throwing away a perfectly good book. Before she tossed it onto the repulping pile, she decided to check for more serious damage inside that might justify her tossing it. She opened the cover and moved to fan through the pages when she noticed something unusual…
When she opened the cover, Cathy was surprised to see that a portion had been hollowed out inside the book. It looked as though someone had taken an X-Acto knife and rather expertly hollowed out a significant space. What’s more, the book’s previous owner had chosen to hide something in that space.
“I had the book in my hands,” Cathy explained to Bookstr. “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…” She looked down and saw that someone had hidden what looked like bills in the space.
Cathy’s first thought was that the bills were monopoly money that perhaps a kid had hidden inside as part of some childish scavenger hunt or something. She reached in and pulled out the money. She felt it. It felt legit. A moment later, Cathy realized that these were not board game bills at all, but bundles of genuine $100 bills.
Stacks of Cash
The $100s were all banded in the same way that a bank would band them. In total, she found four packages, each containing ten $100 bills. Whoever had owned “The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire” had chosen to hide $4000 inside the book. She wondered if they even knew if it was missing…
Cathy’s second thought upon seeing the money was, “Wow. This is enough money to fund a supplemental charity.” She didn’t bother considering keeping the money, she wasn’t that type of person. It didn’t feel right to keep it for any reason. “My values were grounded in our faith…” she confessed afterward.
The Right Thing
She continued by explaining that “The church taught us what was right and wrong. It just becomes who you are after a while.” Regardless of how much good she thought she might be able to do with the money, Cathy decided that the only realistic option left to her was to return it to its rightful owners, but how would she find them?
The True Owners
Luckily for Cathy, “The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire” contained more than just $4000. It also contained a family letter with the name of who the book’s former owner. Using this letter, Cathy might be able to follow the links and get it back to its rightful owner. Still, it would take a little digging.
Thankfully, the book’s previous owner just happened to have a pretty unusual last name. This made Cathy’s subsequent Internet search that much easier. After only about ten minutes online, Cathy had found them. The money belonged to a man and his daughter and they were about to get some rather good news…
Cathy got in touch with the owner’s son-in-law and the two agreed that the family would come down to the warehouse to retrieve the money. She would have met them at their place, but she had too much to do gearing up for the show. The man’s father-in-law hadn’t even remembered that he’d hidden the money in the first place.
The family had received an absolute windfall, so they decided to pay it back a bit. They were so thankful for Cathy’s honesty and quick response to them, that they actually ended up donating a rather large donation to the Volunteer Nonprofit Service Association to show their gratitude. Word of Cathy’s honesty soon spread…
Couldn’t Sleep at Night
Cathy soon became a minor Internet celebrity and one of the most popular questions she received was one with the easiest of answers. People wondered why she didn’t just keep the money for herself. This surprised Cathy, who simply replied with the matter-of-fact, “I don’t know how you would sleep at night.”
A New Method
On February 9, 2019, the doors to the annual VNSA book sale opened for the first time. Cathy and most of her volunteers were curious to see how their customers acted after news of the story broke. They expected to see folks holding up and shaking every single book they could; just in case someone left money inside.
Once in a Lifetime
Cathy was surprised to find that most people were simply looking for the same thing they always did, a good 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,” she explained.
The Volunteer Nonprofit Service Association that Cathy works for began in 1949 and for the past 63 years, had continued their tradition of saving and repurposing affordable books to the general public. Frankly, we need more organizations like these and more people like Cathy McCallister in the world.