All $700 lost then all $700 returned

COSTA MESA — Imagine that sinking feeling when you think you've lost some saved-up money. Now imagine that money was for buying your child new clothes for the coming school year.

Eli Fuentes, a bus driver for the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, found himself in that predicament Tuesday morning while registering his 11-year-old son, Eli Fuentes Jr., at TeWinkle Middle School in Costa Mesa.

Reacting like most would, Fuentes said he had written off the money as gone for good after he realized he was missing $700 in cash.

"I told my son that the people who found it probably needed it more than we did," Fuentes said, trying to find some comfort in an otherwise miserable turn of events.

However, every once in a while, the right person is there at the right time.

Also registering for the seventh grade on Tuesday morning was seventh-grader Abby Dunham, 11, and her mother, Caroline McNabb.

The Costa Mesa mother and daughter were sitting at the registration desks, filling out paperwork, when Abby spotted "a great big wad of cash" on the ground between the tables.

"I was just really shocked to see so much money, and I think, so was she," McNabb said.

Rather than holding onto the unexpected monetary boon, as many would, the pair turned the money over to lost-and-found in the principal's office.

"[Abby] knows what's hers and what's not," McNabb said. "And boy, when someone loses something, she knows it can sure make a difference when it's returned."

The money found its way back to Fuentes, who gave Abby a $20 reward, Fuentes said.

"We are just so proud of [Abby] for doing the right thing and that the man could get back his money," said Elizabeth Dunham, the young Good Samaritan's aunt. "I'm sure he worked very hard for it, and it would make a big difference to have it back."

It proved to be a lesson in doing the right thing — before the start of the school year on Sept. 8.

"I just feel good that I returned it and that the person who lost it was able to get it back again," Abby said.

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