A grandmother who works at a Goodwill warehouse said today that a hug was all the reward she needed for finding and returning $40,000 worth of Tiffany jewelry that was accidentally included in a box of donated clothes and household items.
"She wanted to give me a reward, but the thank you and the hug was my reward," Bonnie Patton told ABCNews.com.
Patton spoke a day after she met with Sandra Williams, but it was hard to say which woman was more excited that Patton found the gems in the football-sized warehouse in Burlingame, Calif.
Patton, a grandmother of seven, was a temporary worker with Goodwill back in April when the alert went out that jewelry was possibly somewhere among the 25,000 items donated to the huge warehouse each day.
She remembers "jumping for joy" when she spotted a small box containing a 1.75-carat diamond ring, as it fell out of one of thousands of garbage bags in the warehouse.
That contrasted with the panic felt by Williams, a banking executive, as she desperately rummaged around her San Mateo apartment searching for her "irreplaceable and sentimental" heirloom pieces during renovations of her home in April.
"I thought I'd hid it so well that even I couldn't find it or someone walked off with it," Williams said.
At that time there was a construction crew entering Williams' home daily and she quickly moved to file reports with her insurance company and the police.
Williams then called the construction company to obtain the name and addresses of all their employees. She was on the verge of paying visits to local pawn shops when she suddenly remembered that her daughter had dropped off bags of clothing, books and housewares to Goodwill's warehouse earlier that week.
Williams contacted Goodwill's donations department who sent around a lost donations report, but she was warned there was an extremely slim chance of employees recovering items in the cavernous warehouse.
Lucky for her, Patton was one of three clothing sorters working that day.
Patton screamed when she found the first pieces of jewelry in a white garbage bag filled with undergarments (also mistakenly donated). She immediately alerted her supervisor and after lunch, continued to dig for more items, uncovering the Tiffany pearls after scrupulously shaking out each of the brassieres in the bag.
"Finding these rings was like a needle in a haystack," said Patton, who before working for Goodwill had been unemployed for two years and struggled to support three generations of family members in her Millbrae home. "I was so excited for this lady. I would not personally want to lose my heirlooms, my personal memories, so I was very, very excited."
"I could not believe the goodwill of Goodwill," said Williams, voicing incredulity that someone "would find a 1.75-carat ring and not put in their pocket."
Williams now keeps the jewelry in a very safe place.
"Her story really got my heart," said Williams. "She was borderline homeless and got promoted for her honesty when she made this discovery." Patton is now a permanent staff member of Goodwill.
"I almost had tears in my eyes watching these two women meet each other yesterday," said Goodwill's Tim Murray. "They totally connected as people and they are at two completely different stations in life."
Goodwill policy prevents Williams from giving a monetary reward, but not from surprising Patton with dinner, which she plans to do tonight in between work and Patton's bowling engagement.
This is not the first time accidental donations have been returned by Goodwill. In early August, ABC News reported another Goodwill employee in Stockton, Calif. returned an envelope she found containing over $10,000 in cash, while in the same month a Purple Heart found in a New York store was returned to a World War II vet's family.