Homeless Boston man turns in backpack with $42,000; charity rolls in

Glen James of Boston, left, and Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis during a news conference at police headquarters.
Glen James of Boston, left, and Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis during a news conference at police headquarters.
(Steven Senne / AP)

When Glen James found himself in front of a room full of reporters earlier this week, he used his time in the spotlight to thank others.

He thanked the people who look after him at a homeless shelter. He thanked “every pedestrian stranger” who has given him spare change when he has panhandled on Boston sidewalks. He even thanked one of the city’s mayoral candidates who dropped $7 into his cup.

“It’s just nice to have some money in one’s pockets so that as a homeless man I don’t feel absolutely broke all the time,” he said in a written statement.


So it was no surprise that when James talked with Ethan Whittington by phone the next day, “he just kept saying thank you” to yet another stranger.

Whittington, a 27-year-old marketing accounts manager from Virginia, set up an online fund to raise money for James, whose good deed has prompted people across the nation to open up their hearts – and wallets.

James was honored by Boston police this week for turning in a backpack containing about $42,000. The bag was eventually returned to its owner. For his act of honesty, James was given a nice plaque and lots of applause.

After seeing a story about James online, Whittington wanted to do something more. His first idea was to raise a few hundred dollars by reaching out directly to friends. But as James’ story took off, so did Whittington’s fundraising campaign.

By week’s end, more than $100,000 had been donated.

“I never ever in my wildest dreams imagined this,” Whittington said.

Police say James flagged down officers patrolling the area in front of a TJ Maxx Store on a recent Saturday night. He told them he found a black backpack that contained “a large sum of money and a passport,” a police statement said.

Inside, authorities found $2,400 in cash and $39,500 in American Express Travelers Cheques as well as passports and personal papers. About an hour later, they got a call about a male customer at a Best Buy store who said he lost his backpack. That night, the backpack--and all the money stuffed inside--was returned to the owner.

Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis honored James at police headquarters on Monday. James, who stutters, distributed a handwritten statement to reporters. In it, he said he suffers from a disorder that causes bouts of vertigo, which in turn makes it hard to get a job.

Despite saying he has been homeless for years, he wrote: “Even if I were desperate for money, I would not have kept even a ... penny of the money I found.”

The story struck Whittington, who saw a “great opportunity to honor someone who has shown that there are still honorable people out there.” After setting up an online GoFundMe campaign, local and then national media spread the word.

As of Thursday, the campaign had more than 4,000 donors, some of whom have given hundreds, or even $1,000. Whittington said donations have been flowing in at a pace of about $2,000 to $3,000 per hour for days.

Whittington said he plans to personally visit James within the next two weeks and will either cut him a check or transfer the money into James’ bank account. He’s hoping to link the online campaign with James’ account so money can keep flowing in the years to come.

“The way it’s spread, I think this says a lot about people wanting to see the right thing being done,” he said. “Glen is responsible for sparking that. There are honest people out there. Not everything in the world is bad.”


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