SUNNYSIDE -- Chella Cardenas was sorting shoes at the Sunnyside Goodwill store last month when she found $15,000 tucked beneath a pair of brown suede Rockports.
Cardenas, the store manager, notified her bosses, and they put out a public call for help finding whoever dropped off the shoebox. The mystery soon went viral.
Was the cash -- in $50 and $100 bills -- a stealthy, anonymous donation to the nonprofit? Was it mistakenly donated along with the shoes?
Goodwill leaders say they now know the answer, and they shared it Wednesday: The cash belonged to a man who died. He didn't much trust banks after a bad experience and preferred to stash money at home.
After his death, family members dropped off some of his belongings at the Sunnyside store, not realizing what lay hidden beneath the shoes, obscured by tissue paper and some colorful hand towels.
Thanks to the publicity, the family heard about the money in the shoebox and came forward, providing enough details -- including the unusual size of the shoes -- to convince the nonprofit's leaders they were telling the truth. The man's wife came to the Sunnyside store Wednesday to pick up the money.
"I'm glad that it was the rightful owner that came forward," Cardenas told the Herald later that day. "We did have, you know, lots of different calls, but finding the rightful owner was an accomplishment. That was good."
Goodwill officials wouldn't release the woman's name and said she didn't want to be interviewed. They provided a brief statement from her saying she was in "disbelief" and "emotional" when she learned of the money and the store manager who turned it in. "(I) couldn't believe that someone would be that honest," the woman said in the statement.
Gordon Comfort, executive director of Goodwill Industries of the Columbia, praised Cardenas' integrity and said he's glad the shoebox mystery has a happy ending.
"It was sad in that it brought up a lot of (the woman's) memories (of her late husband). But it seemed like they were really good memories," Comfort said. "She really loved her husband. And my parting comment to her was, 'It looks like your husband is taking care of you once again.' "