When Umodu spotted a Craigslist post advertising free furniture, she said, she felt as though she’d won a jackpot.
Then she learned that she’d actually taken home a jackpot.
It was May 18, and she and her son, Oly Umodu, 29, had collected the free furniture and moved the pieces into their living room. Vicky Umodu said she felt something unusual as she was placing the upholstered cushion on an oversize, cream-colored armchair. The seat cushion seemed off.
She thought perhaps there was a heating pad inside, so she unzipped the cushion, stuck her hand in and felt around.
“It wasn’t a heating pad, but I could feel there was a bunch of paper,” she said. “When I pulled it out, I was shocked.”
The cushion was stuffed with bank deposit envelopes and manila clasp envelopes filled with cash. Most had dollar amounts scrawled on them, as if somebody had been keeping track of what was tucked inside, she said.
In all, more than $36,000 in cash was hidden inside the barrel-backed chair with a scalloped design that Umodu had picked up for nothing.
“It was a lot of money,” said Umodu, who declined to give her age but said she is in her mid-60s.
Although she could have used the cash to buy more furniture and new appliances, Umodu and her son contacted the man who had given her the furniture. The man had kindly thrown in some free kitchenware and other household supplies.
“I knew I couldn’t keep it,” Umodu said of the money, adding that it was not hers. “I knew I had to give it back.”
Classmates wouldn’t sign his yearbook. So older students stepped in.
She said the man had previously told them that the furniture belonged to his uncle, who had died, and that the family had decided to give away most of the items to people in need.
“We were so thankful to have the sofas and other items he’d given us, like linens and dishes,” Umodu said.
In fact, when she saw the furniture advertised as free, she suspected there might be a catch.
“I thought it must be a gimmick,” she said. “But he was very kind and told us to come to the house.”
Umodu, who used to live in Los Angeles County, said that her husband died three years ago and that she relocated to be near her family.
“I’d given away most of what I had before the move and was planning to try and find some cheap furniture somewhere,” she said. “I was really happy when I saw the Craigslist ad online.”
The man who gave her the items came right over when she called with the news about the windfall of cash.
He said his uncle had told another relative that he’d hidden money around the house for several years, Umodu said.
The man, who asked not to be identified for privacy reasons, confirmed Umodu’s story to The Washington Post and said he’d been searching the house for cash after his uncle’s death.
He had located about $1,000, and with that, he thought he’d found all the hidden money.
Restaurant owners traded grilled cheeses for painting that later fetched $272,548
“I was happy to help Vicky and put the furniture and other items to good use,” he said. “When she called me about the Craigslist ad, she told me she had nothing and needed everything that I was posting.”
“My heart went out to her, but you also wonder if somebody is going to turn around and sell everything for a profit,” he said.
When he drove to Umodu’s house and saw there was nothing inside except the furniture she’d picked up at his uncle’s house, it was a validation of her honesty, he said.
“I was appreciative that they truly needed everything they’d taken,” he added.
He said he was floored to get the call about the cushion stuffed with cash — a mixture of $100s, $50s and $20s that came to just over $36,000.
“I thanked her and her son profusely for being good people,” he said, noting that he gave Umodu $2,200 to buy a new refrigerator as an extra show of gratitude.
“They did the honest thing,” he said. “Today, that’s a rarity. Not everyone would do that.”
A Jewish teen put her baby up for adoption in WWII. They just reunited.
Umodu said she learned the importance of honesty and kindness while growing up in Nigeria.
“All my life, God has been good to me,” she said. “Even in hard times, I have felt blessed. It’s important to do the right thing in life.”
She and her late husband immigrated to the United States in 1988 when she was pregnant with her first child, Umodu said.
While her husband ran a small business, she raised six children and worked as a registered nurse and midwife for several years. She also volunteered as a teaching assistant at her kids’ elementary school so she could be close to them, she said.
“My children are all grown now, so my grandchildren are my main focus,” Umodu said. “When my two oldest grandchildren are away at school, I babysit the youngest one.”
She said she is thankful to have a cozy place to sit as she cuddles baby Jay, age 6 months.
“We are all very comfortable and enjoying the beautiful furniture that was generously given to us at a time when we really needed it,” Umodu said.
“No, I haven’t found any more money in the cushions,” she added with a laugh.
Have a story for Inspired Life? Here’s how to submit.