A mystery philanthropist known only as “Benny” has hidden over $50,000 worth of $100 bills in and around Salem, Oregon in the last three years.
For the last three years, a mystery philanthropist has been hiding $100 bills in and around the city of Salem, Oregon. A total of $50,500 worth of bills has been reported so far, but the true donated sum could be much larger.
The first hidden $100 bills were found at stores and events in Salem in May 2013, and new ones have been surfacing regularly ever since. As soon as local news network started covering the phenomenon, a number of people came out to claim responsibility for the generous act, so to make sure no one tried to steal his thunder again, the anonymous benefactor started signing the bills. A couple of people claiming to be his friends came forward to act as liaisons and confirm his signature, but they never revealed his identity, and always made sure to emphasize that this wasn’t about him, but about helping people in need and inspiring others to do the same.
Photo: The Statesman Journal
Capy Lynn, a journalist with the Statesman Journal, has been documenting the activity of this mystery person from the very beginning, and was the one who nicknamed him “Benny”, after Benjamin Franklin, the president featured on the $100 bill. In a recent article for USA Today, she says she has been keeping track of where and when his generous gifts are found. So far, they’ve been discovered at 26 different stores, at eight different events and in a handful of different neighborhoods. Somehow, they seem to always end up in the hands of people who really need them.
Lucky recipients of Benny’s $100 bills have used them to pay their electric bills, their rent or prescription medication, and even for a place to sleep for a few nights. But the most remarkable thing about Benny’s generosity is the pay-it-forward movement it has inspired in the local community. Over half of those who found hidden money reported paying it forward, either to their favorite charity or to a stranger in need. Some cherish these bills so much that they keep them as mementos, but still pay it forward using their own money.
“We wanted to keep in the spirit of what he is doing so we decided to double the generosity and donate $100 to Marion-Polk Food Share and $100 to the Pet Therapy Program at Willamette Valley Hospice,” one person told the Statesman Journal. “It helped us reflect on our good fortune, and hopefully we’ve made a difference in someone else’s world as a result.”
Benny’s actions have changed not only the lives of people in Salem Oregon, but also the local slang. For example, finders of his $100 bills are referred to as Benny-ficiaries, while the luck of discovering his hidden gifts is called “to get Benny-ed”.
The anonymous philanthropist folds and hides the bills in the packaging of various store products, from cereal to frozen foods, but they most often they are found in diapers. He also frequents high-profile local events and festivals and tucks away the bills in places he’s sure they’ll be found. Capy Lynn reports that his favorite location seems to be the Fred Meyer store on Commercial Street SE, where 156 $100 bills have been found so far.
“Whoever does this for people is truly amazing,” said Brittany Medina, a 23-year-old Salem resident. “He has blessed a lot of people.” The young mother of three found one of Benny’s bills when she opened a container of baby formula. She immediately started crying. It was right before Christmas and she now had money to buy her kids nice presents.
With over $50,000 donated so far and no signs of stopping anytime soon, Benny is regarded as true local hero and an inspiration in Salem. We could all learn a thing or two from this person, that’s for sure.