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Donations pour in for homeless man who returned backpack with $42K

Glen James, of Boston, left, smiles as Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis, looks on during a news conference at the police headquarters recognizing James' Good Samaritan actions in Boston on Monday.AP Photo / Steven Senne

Honesty really paid off for a homeless man in Boston who turned in a backpack worth nearly $42,000 earlier this week.

Since his good deed, an online fundraiser had raised more than $92,000 for Glen James by early Thursday, and brought in offers from strangers who want to help the Good Samaritan by donating computers and offering health care services to him.

"I like to make people happy. That's what makes me happy," said Ethan Whittington, 27, of Midlothian, Va., who started the effort for James.

Whittington has never met James, but felt compelled to start a fundraising campaign for him after reading about him.

Whittington, an accounts manager for a marketing firm, set up the fundraiser on the online donation site GoFundMe on Tuesday expecting "maybe a couple hundred bucks over the next couple of weeks," but set his goal at $50,000.

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"I figured he found [about] $41,000, let's give him $50,000," he said. "I didn't expect what we've received. I'm ecstatic about it."

James found the bag, which contained $2,400 in cash and $39,500 in travelers checks, in front of a TJ Maxx store in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood on Saturday evening. 

He flagged down police who were patrolling the area to tell them he had found the cash-laden bag, and gave them his name and the name of the shelter where he lives.

The money was returned a short time later to its owner, who had told staff at a store nearby that he "lost his backpack containing a large sum of money" and his passport, police said. The owner was identified by his People's Republic of China passport.

Boston police held a ceremony honoring James on Monday and presented him with a special citation.

Ethan Whittington of Virginia has raised tens of thousands of dollars through his online donation effort.Krista Hull

"I just want to thank Mr. James for what he did," said Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis. "It really is a remarkable tribute to him and his honesty."

Whittington said he and James spoke on the phone on Tuesday after the GoFundMe site started catching on.

"It was awesome. To do something for somebody and you don't even know them, and you see pictures of them, you hear great things about them, and then to finally get to talk to them, is great. He was saying thank you, but the biggest thing I was trying to convey to him is he didn't have to thank us, we were thanking him," he said.

During their phone call, the two hammered out possible ways the large sum could be transferred to James, something that Whittington said James felt a bit hesitant about.

"We're going to have to find somebody who can help him financially," Whittington said, adding that his own brother is a certified financial planner who is willing to assist. "Hopefully we can get some concrete plans out there. I want to make sure it's what Glen wants, because ultimately, it's his money."

Some who came to Whittington’s GoFundMe site expressed concern that their donations would reach James, which Whittington said was understandable when making contributions online.

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“I have the best of intentions for Mr. James. I want this to positively influence the rest of his life,” he said. He added that he hopes to either give him the money through a bank account or to go deliver it in person.

“I’d like to go up to Boston amd meet him and give the guy a hug,” he said.

In the meantime, as donations continue to pour in on GoFundMe — ranging from $5 to $500, Whittington said — people have also volunteered to donate other things.

Some have written to Whittington that they want to give James their computers, others that they'd be willing to do free dental work.

"It's unbelievable. It's nothing I ever imagined in my wildest dreams," Whittington said. "The sky's the limit when people come together."