On the way to visit my father-in-law in hospital today, I saw someone up ahead of me in the hallway drop something.
I rushed over and picked it up. It was just a pen but I called out to them and managed to return it.
That is small potatoes compared to the efforts of those in the following story from my local paper. As an experiment, the editors arranged for 20 wallets to be “lost” around the city to test the honesty of Torontonians.
Reading it, I found myself bursting with pride for my hometown. On Sundays, I try to spotlight an everyday hero, and today, all those who returned these wallets are my everyday heroes.
And if you’ve ever returned something to someone or had it returned to you, I’d love to hear about it!
The Amazing Wallet Caper
by Diana Zlomislic
excerpted from The Toronto Star
Take 20 wallets. Fill each with $43.77 (enough change for a TTC ride and a little extra for good measure), photo ID, baby pictures, a grocery list, receipts, a contact number, an ATM card, a fancy hankie and a handwritten love note.
Now “lose” the wallets in high-traffic areas across Greater Toronto where people work, play and pray. Now wait.
Would the one stashed beside the $197 bottle of Fonterutoli “Siepi” in the Vintages section of the Summerhill LCBO stand a better chance of being returned than the wallet dropped on the pedestrian bridge in Humber Park? Would lawyers-in-training at Osgoode Hall out-Samaritan the patrons of the Parkdale Public Library?
Over a two-week period, the Toronto Star conducted this admittedly unscientific experiment to challenge the city’s honesty.
Of the 20 wallets dropped, 15 have been returned so far. We’re trying to reach two additional callers who left messages before this story went to press.
The exercise yielded some surprising results. For one, honesty is different than goodness. Goodness is bigger. It’s going out of one’s way to return that lost item. It’s empathizing with someone you’ve never met.
And, boy, is Toronto good.
In fact, so many concerned citizens called repeatedly that our special phone line (the emergency contact number left in the wallet) was almost instantly clogged with messages.
“Hi. It’s James again. I just wanted you to know that in case I’m in the TTC, just leave a message and I’ll call you back. Please call.”
That was James Song, 21, who had gone to the Eaton Centre with a buddy hoping to chat up a pretty clerk he had met earlier that week at the Yogen Fruz.
She wasn’t there but a wallet was – abandoned by the big fountain in the lower level.
Song, who’s taking a year off his studies in chemical engineering at the University of Toronto and later admitted he could’ve used the money in the wallet, waited by the fountain for 20 minutes, hoping to spot the woman whose photo ID he found inside.
“I’m like, how is this person going to get their groceries done? That’s all I was thinking,” he says.
Paul Dowell, a brawny realtor who looks like he makes a living lifting homes instead of selling them, left his office in Don Mills mid-morning last week to come downtown, fetch the wallet from his house and hand deliver it to its owner less than four hours after finding it in the Beaches.
“It wasn’t a big deal,” he says. “I was working on taxes.”
Dowell found the wallet on a boardwalk bench just outside Kew Gardens Tennis Club.
“Losing my wallet myself, I know how insane it is, not knowing who’s got your identity,” he says after learning the real story….
Lorraine Methven, principal of the Toronto Island School, found the wallet aboard the Ongiara ferry on her ride home after school.
“I was thinking, here is a person who has either a child or a grandchild,” she says. “I know if I lost something and somebody returned it, I’d be quite ecstatic. I wanted to do the same for somebody else.”
Silvana Fazzolari also put herself in the wallet owner’s shoes.
Her husband found the wallet when they returned their shopping cart at Whole Foods Market in Oakville.
She offered to track down the owner, explaining to her husband: “It’s best that I call because this is a woman’s wallet. Maybe the woman wouldn’t feel comfortable calling a man to get her wallet back.”
But before you start feeling too warm and fuzzy, sociologist Robert Brym warns about drawing sweeping conclusions, although he did say 17 out of 20 is “impressive.”
“Twenty cases is an awfully small sample,” Brym says….
Of the 15 wallets returned, one dropped in the public reception area of The Globe and Mail was missing the cash. A Globe spokesperson said last night the person who picked up the wallet found no money in it “and we have it on video surveillance.”
Another lost wallet sparked a fraud probe by the criminal investigation branch of the Durham Regional Police.
Dropped by the Star outside a Shopper’s Drug Mart in Whitby, the wallet was found hours later, the cash surprisingly intact, a few blocks away in the parking lot of a TD Canada Trust. (We had help from TD Bank Financial, whose donation of inactive debit cards made the wallets truly authentic).
“They tried to use the (debit) card,” Const. Roxanne Yelle says of the unidentified person who found it. A Whitby man picked up the wallet, discarded in the parking lot and reported it to police.
“It’s quite a good thing you’ve done … just to see who the Good Samaritans are out there.”
The five wallets still missing include one dropped at a sidewalk fruit stand on Yonge St., just north of Eglinton; one left at eye level on the book stacks at Osgoode Hall Library and one left on a table at a Tim Hortons in Vaughan. If you’ve found one, it’s not too late to call.
Father Paul McGill of St. Basil’s will forgive you.
We dropped a wallet by the prayer candles in his church. A parishioner found it after morning mass, took it to the parish office, and the church receptionist called us.
Our experiment reminded Father McGill of co-ordinating a food drive with high school students in Windsor. “They were all gung-ho to go to this very wealthy neighbourhood. And they were shocked by how little they collected. … It was a real learning lesson for them,” he said.
“People who have experienced deprivation tend to be more generous than the very wealthy.”
Similar wallet experiments conducted by Reader’s Digest and the Chicago Sun-Times did note that people in affluent areas were less likely to return found property than those in lower-to-middle class areas.
Our pattern of discovery showed that downtowners were quicker than suburbanites, and that more wallets were returned by men than women. Discuss.
What we can say is in Toronto – now, in the worst recession since the Depression – honesty is not about the rich, or the poor. It’s everywhere, and it’s overwhelming.
“I think,” says Father McGill, “most people in their conscience know what the right thing is.”
For the Good Samaritans who have come forward, the cash returned has been donated to a charity of their choice. A tax receipt will be issued in their name.