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Couple find bag of cash, turn it in and eat for free

By RYAN DAVIS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 13, 2002

PORT RICHEY -- Tom Strickland has a habit of scanning the ground as he walks, looking for pennies.

"Sometimes I find six or eight a week," Strickland said. "Pennies pay taxes if you find enough of them."

Late last month, the 64-year-old retired plumber found nearly $2,000.

And he never even thought of keeping it.

Strickland and his wife, Pat, scooped up a black bag of cash outside Pam's Country Restaurant in Port Richey. The best they or anyone else can remember, it was Sept. 27.

"Look what I found," Tom told his wife.

Then he unzipped the bag and peeked inside.

"It was all greenbacks," he said.

Tom Strickland had between $1,800 and $1,900 cash in his hands. That's more than he and his wife of 29 years live on each month. They get less than $1,400 in Social Security each month. They live in the same single-wide mobile home -- with a small addition -- that they moved into nearly three decades ago.

With the cash, Tom Strickland said, he could have bought a car. He recently got rid of his second car because he couldn't afford the payments.

But his wife figured it was Pam's money. So they walked into Pam's Country Restaurant at 6602 Ridge Road and plopped the bag down in front of the restaurant's namesake.

"Do you know what it's like for someone to come to you and show you your envelope that you think is in your purse?" said Pam Kalathakis.

She said she had walked into her restaurant about 8:30 that morning, 15 minutes before the Stricklands, and somehow dropped the money.

"I would have never known I was missing that money, at least until the afternoon," she said.

By then, she said, it would have been gone.

The Stricklands are regular customers at Kalathakis' strip-mall diner. They have been coming at least once a week for three years.

Pat Strickland typically gets scrambled eggs with a biscuit and gravy. Tom Strickland typically gets one egg over medium, sausage and a biscuit. They usually spend $5 -- never more than $7.

If it had happened a few years earlier, Tom Strickland might have kept the money he found that morning, he said. But his values changed in May 2000 when he started joining his wife for services at Bible Baptist Church instead of staying home and watching TV.

For their honesty, Kalathakis gave the Stricklands a free meal, then a gift certificate for another meal, then a $100 gift certificate. They finished the $100 certificate Friday.

But Tom Strickland said he won't miss the free meals. They weren't the real reward anyway.

"I felt a glow in my soul," he said, "that I've never had in my whole life."

-- Ryan Davis can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6245 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6245. His e-mail address is rdavis@sptimes.com.

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