A mystery philanthropist has been spreading cheer one $100 bill at a time for more than three years in and around Salem, Ore.
He randomly hides the bills to be found at stores, markets, fairs and festivals, surprising and delighting unsuspecting shoppers and patrons.
When the first reports surfaced in May 2013, I christened him with the nickname Benny because Benjamin Franklin is on the $100 bill. Not long after, when it appeared others might be trying to steal his thunder, he began signing his bills.
A friend of his came forward to act as a liaison, confirming his handiwork. When she died, a replacement quickly stepped forward, emphasizing just how serious Benny’s circle of friends are about maintaining his anonymity and how this has never been about him, but about helping and inspiring others.
Even so, Benny has been known to be brazen. He often frequents stores during peak shopping times and high-profile events that draw thousands of people. Apparently, that’s part of the fun for him.
To date, he has hidden more than $50,000 worth of $100 bills in the Salem area, and that’s only what has been reported. I keep track of when and where the bills are found, and if possible how they are used. He has left them in 26 different stores, at eight different events, and in a handful of different neighborhoods.
Those who find one all have a similar tale, about being shocked when a $100 bill falls out of the packaging of something they just purchased. Bills have been found in everything from breakfast cereals to frozen entrees, and from mouse traps to feminine hygiene products. Sometimes they are not discovered until days or weeks later when retrieving something out of the pantry or cabinet.
Benny bills, usually neatly folded in fourths and signed on the right edge front or back, have come to symbolize generosity and good will. From them a new Salem slang has evolved.
- To get Benny-ed is to find one of these $100 bills and be given hope or inspiration.
- The finders are Benny-ficiaries.
- Non-profits and causes are Benny-fitting.
It is remarkable how these bills always seem to wind up in the right hands, of those who really need the money and those who know just the right cause to give it to.
They have helped people pay their electric bill, make their rent, buy their prescription medication, and even provide them shelter for a couple of nights. But the real magic of Benny has been the pay-it-forward spirit he has inspired in the community.
Slightly more than half of those who find a $100 bill report paying it forward, whether it be to their favorite non-profit or a stranger in need. Some of the most heartwarming stories involve children. Instead of going on a toy shopping spree, they decide to buy school supplies for their classmates or groceries for the local food bank.
The bills are so cherished by some finders that they are keeping them as mementos. They’re still paying it forward, but with their own cash or check. People are posting them on refrigerators, displaying them on bedside tables, carrying them in their purses and putting them in protective sleeves.
It’s a reminder, they say, to give and be like Benny.