Andrea Lessing, left, holds her $1,000 reward with Frank Holland, vice president of donated goods at Goodwill.

NORMAN, Okla. — A Norman, Oklahoma, Goodwill store employee organizing clothing donations recently made a startling discovery — $42,000 wrapped up in two sweaters.

Andrea Lessing said she initially assumed the money was fake.

“That was my first thought, because who accidentally donates $42,000?” Lessing said. “I know accidents happen, but the chances of pulling out a sweater and finding that much money are pretty low.”

Lessing said she and her coworkers at the Main Street Goodwill store determined the money was real, tracked down the rightful owner using documentation found with the money and returned it.

The owner of the cash, who wishes to remain anonymous, was so grateful for the efforts to return the money that he gave Lessing $1,000.

“He gave me $1,000 for my honesty and my integrity, but honestly it wasn’t about the money, because I wasn’t expecting to receive anything in return,” Lessing said. “I just know that I wanted to do the right thing, which was giving that money back to who it belongs to.”

Jim Priest, CEO of Goodwill Industries of Central Oklahoma, said $42,000 is a large and potentially life-changing amount of money for anybody, but especially a young mother who is trying to raise her daughter.

“She could have kept the money, or Goodwill could have kept the money, but those actions wouldn't have been consistent with our principle of integrity,” Priest said. “And so we're proud of (Lessing), we’re proud of our organization for making the decision we did to live with integrity — it's doing the right thing even when nobody's watching.”

Lessing said she intends to use the windfall to throw a birthday party for her daughter in July.

“I’m going through a situation right now where I can’t be with my daughter all day every day,” Lessing said. “I’ve been feeling down this past year due to this, but I want to be able to give her the party she deserves.”

Lessing said returning the money is one of the many decisions she has made in hopes of setting a good example for her daughter.

“I want her to know that honesty and integrity can get you where you need to be and can take you a long way,” Lessing said. “I’m going to use the money to give my daughter an awesome birthday party because she deserves it, and I wish I could give her more because she deserves every bit of that.”

Jeff Elkins covers business, living and community stories for The Transcript. Reach him at or at @JeffElkins12 on Twitter.

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