What began as a merry family outing last Sunday, capped by a visit to Nathan Phillips Square’s Holiday Fair, turned into a frantic search for a missing purse.
And no wonder the search was so desperate. The purse held all the essential stuff of modern life, as well as cash for Christmas expenses, payments and donations.
As it turned out, Elizabeth Marquez had nothing to worry about. Her purse would be returned that evening by a “unique soul” who turned down her offer of a reward, asking instead that she donate the money to the Toronto Star Santa Claus Fund so “kids could experience the magic of Christmas.”
Marquez, her daughters, Lily, 5, and Mariana, 7, and husband Victor, had taken advantage of last Sunday’s mild weather to have brunch at a west-end Toronto restaurant followed by a streetcar ride to city hall, where ice skaters packed the outdoor rink and seasonally spirited kids, teens and adults were drawn to the holiday fair in the square.
Moments after stepping off the Queen streetcar, the family posed for a group selfie by the rink. It was then that the stay-at-home mom noticed her purse was missing.
“I felt weak in the knees, like my whole world was crashing,” said Marquez. “Everything is in my purse, all the credit and access cards, OHIP cards, mine and the girls’, driver’s licence, all our keys, and my phone with all of the information about my life — mom’s brain is basically in there — and $2,000 cash I had just taken out of the bank. Unfortunately the cellphone battery was dead, so I couldn’t (use GPS to) locate it.”
She decided her husband and daughters should go home, just in case someone found her purse and took it there. Then she checked at the city hall security desk, on the chance it had been turned in.
Marquez and a security guard looked in and around garbage containers in the square and in city hall’s washrooms but had no luck. Thinking she may have left it on the streetcar, Marquez decided to get back on to see if a driver could help her. “I told the driver what happened and he called in a report.”
It was only when she got home that her dismay turned to jubilation, as her husband told her the purse had been brought to their neighbourhood police station.
It turned out Gary Fish had boarded the streetcar at Bay St. just as Marquez and her family were stepping off, and noticed the purse on an empty seat. He first thought it belonged to a woman paying her fare at the ticket machine, but when she sat at another seat he realized it wasn’t hers.
“As more people were about to get on a few stops later, I decided to take temporary possession of it and started looking for clues as to who owned it,” said Fish, who has worked in Canadian Tire’s marketing department for 16 years.
“Looking inside and seeing all the contents that are a big part of someone’s life made me realize how important it was to get it to the owner, and getting it to a police station made the most sense.”
Fish got off at Parliament St. and headed to the 51 Division station at Front St., where he handed in the purse. A police officer phoned him about an hour later, asking whether he would mind having his number passed on to the owner, who wanted to personally thank him.
“When I called and offered to compensate him for all he did, he asked me to make a donation to the Toronto Star Santa Claus Fund instead,” said Marquez.
She thinks acts of kindness that result in happy endings should be shared because they refresh our faith in humanity: “Gary is a unique soul, and I think this story should be spread.”
Asked why he suggested a donation to the Santa Claus Fund, Fish said “it’s important for all kids to feel the magic of Christmas and the surprise of getting a gift — even if they are kids who don’t understand Christmas, who come from other cultures, because it’s something they would hear about in the schoolyard and from other kids.
“Looking back to when I was little, my parents may have had some financial struggles, but I always got to experience the magic of a Christmas morning. And although I didn’t receive a Santa Claus Fund gift box from the Star, I believe every kid should know the joy of having a gift at Christmas.”
Henry Stancu is a Toronto-based business reporter. Reach him on email: firstname.lastname@example.org