Whether furnishing a freshman dorm room or searching for a good book, thrift stores have been regular treasure chests for the two of us over the years. Our first trip found us in various thrift stores across the country searching for hats and reading material. Yesterday, Shane even mailed a package of thrift store books back to Minnesota. He’d come across some good ones he couldn’t pass up but accumulated enough that we considered turning Project Wildness into a mobile library.

We spent the last couple of nights staying with our old high school friend, Greta, in Ventura, California. She’s been a great friend over the years and welcomed us into town with a salmon dinner and incredible hospitality. As we drove around town with our local tour guide, we noticed thrift stores dotted the downtown area of Ventura and decided to stop in with hopes of scoring a few more books.

Our first stop was the Goodwill Industries International, Inc. store where we headed straight to a loaded shelf of books. At times it becomes almost a competition to find the best titles before the other can snatch them off the shelves. Shane loaded up pretty well here with three well-used books to add to our traveling library. As he approached the counter to his two dollar total, he made a request of the kind cashier. Shane put forward some extra and told the cashier he would like to pay for as many people’s purchases behind him as that money could. The cashier was surprised and lit up with a smile as she loved the plan!

We stood aside as customers approached the counter with their items not knowing they would not need to pay. The cashier told one of the first customers, “Hang on! Before you pull out your wallet, I wanted to let you know your purchase is paid for today by these gentlemen over here.” The cashier pointed our way and the customer, an older woman, looked at us and asked, “Por qué?” Shane responded, “We just wanted to brighten people’s day.” The woman appeared as if she was going to cry and began fanning her face with both hands. She walked over and gave the biggest, most sincere hug and thanked us. Another older woman from a nearby suburb offered us a place to stay if we were ever in the area again. She continued by telling us she’d make us a “real Mexican dinner,” and wrote down her name, phone number, and address! Before we left we watched a mother and two young boys, maybe 6 and 8 years old, place a few pairs of boys’ shorts on the counter. Again, the cashier told the woman her purchase was already paid for and she responded, “Really?” with a big smile. The boys looked at us with a smile and their mother gave us her sincere thanks.

It was so surprising to see how paying for people’s $5 to $10 purchases brought so much joy and thanks. We realized how what seems like a little can mean so much to so many! With joy in our hearts, we decided to move down the street to the Child Abuse and Neglect thrift store. Again, we stumbled upon a favorite Dave Eggers book and a copy of Walden by Old Hank Thoreau. As Shane presented his purchases, he again offered to pay for as many people behind him as he could with the money on the counter. The cashier called up the manager who walked to the front and, after being told what we were doing, said, “Wow! I’m fine with that. I’m sure people will be fine with that.”

We walked outside knowing the money was in good hands supporting a good cause and helping some individuals out at the same time. As we discussed what to do for the afternoon, a woman walked out of the store and thanked us for buying her purchase. “That’s really cool,” she said. Another woman walked out with her older mother explaining in Spanish, “They paid for everyone in the line behind them.” “Why?” her mother asked. “I don’t know,” she responded. “Just being nice.”

Just be nice. ‪#‎ProjectWildness‬


To Nichole L… You suggested we make our way to a thrift store and put some smiles on some people’s faces. You did exactly that in your new home state of California! What you gave was more generous than we could have ever imagined and, although we cannot quantify how many people were directly affected, just know that we witnessed what you gave go so far and touch so many lives! You’re a true selfless giver. Thanks for being such a big part of Project Wildness!

To Jim B… I can’t properly express how thankful I am to have you as a mentor not only in my career, but also in my life. I can honestly say I don’t know if I would be doing Project Wildness if I didn’t have the support and advice from you. No matter how busy you are you always make time for me and anyone else to help with work and life issues. I wanted to buy beer with your money, but you suggested it go towards helping others – potentially involving a Goodwill store. Your donation bought many items for people in Ventura, CA, while turning somber faces into smiles and hugs – something you are pretty good at doing yourself. Thank you for all that you do and for everyone you help.