Volunteer finds $30,000 in New Orleans wall

Published: March 19, 2006 | 3792nd good news item since 2003

The woman who owned the flood-damaged home knew nothing about the money in the walls.

She was as shocked as the young volunteer who found it while helping tear out moldy Sheetrock.

“I thought it was Monopoly money,” said Trista Wright, 19, who attends Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, Ga., and has spent her spring break gutting homes.

She found the first few $100 bills poking out of a pile of Sheetrock that she was raking up.

Then she peeled back more Sheetrock from around an air conditioning vent in the closet wall where she’d been working and found a stack of bills almost six inches high.

By an unofficial count, it was more than $30,000.

She and fellow students notified the organizers of their church mission, who, in turn told the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office about it.

Deputy Gary Adams verified the identity of the woman who owned the home, which she said previously belonged to her father and had been in the family for generations. When the succession papers checked out and a call to a local lawyer who handled the transaction confirmed her story, Adams gave the money over to the homeowner.

“She was speechless,” said Wright, one of 175 Georgia college students who’ve been working as volunteers in the area.

Adams said the money likely dated to the early 1960s. He said it’s not uncommon to find stashes of weapons or medications behind the walls of homes, but this is the first time he’s heard of such a large sum of money being found.

“They were elated, but they didn’t know what to do with it,” Adams said. “It’s good to see someone find something like that and turn it over to proper authorities and the rightful owner.”

The homeowner, a woman in her 50s who grew up in the area and asked to remain anonymous, said she suspects the money belonged to her father, who grew up in the Depression and was wary of keeping his money in a bank.

“I had my suspicions about the money at first, but once I met the family and talked to the woman, I have no doubt she’s telling the truth,” said Aaron Arledge, one of the organizers of the mission. “She said her father grew up during the Depression and must not have told anyone in the family about it before he died.”

The one-story home in the Arabi area was flooded to the gutters, with no contents that could be saved, church officials said.

Warren Jones Jr., pastor at New Salem Baptist Church in the Ninth Ward, which has served as the home base for the church missions, said the woman submitted a request to gut her home earlier last week. He said the group normally doesn’t work in St. Bernard Parish because of the overwhelming need in the immediate area, but he agreed to make an exception for the homeowner after hearing about her needs.

“To see that woman’s face when we told her about the money, that’s the kind of positive story that makes all the hard work worthwhile,” Jones said. “She said it was a miracle. And when you think about it, it was.”

Published in Honesty, Hurricane Katrina, Sudden Wealth
See also: www.chron.com
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