Down and out does not mean dishonest and greedy. That’s the lesson in the actions of Charles Moore, a 59-year-old Detroit homeless man who last July dug into a garbage can for returnable bottles and came up with $21,000 in U.S. savings bonds.

Moore, homeless for the first time after losing his job as a roofer, found the bonds in a white envelope. He knew what they were, because in better times he had owned some himself. But instead of running off with his windfall, he took the bonds to a local homeless shelter and turned them in. A staff member tracked down the family of the owner of the bonds, who had died.

Moore said it never entered his mind to take the bonds, whose face value was $9,000, and sell them on the street. “They were not mine,” he told Beliefnet. “And I knew whoever they belonged to would miss them.”

Actually, they did not. The widow of the owner was unaware of their existence. When the bonds were returned to her, her son tipped Moore $100.

That, in turn, tipped off a flood of donations and support for Moore, whose actions many people hailed as more selfless than might have been expected in his situation. Charles Moore is nominated for his honesty and strong sense of personal ethics, which remained uncompromised even in a time of great personal need.

“My mother taught me to do the right thing,” Moore, who grew up in Ypsilanti, Mich. said. “Everything I have learned coming up, I attribute to my mother. She was real religious. I was brought up in the church and I was just taught to do the right thing.” The fact that the owners would not have missed the bonds, “didn’t make any difference to me,” Moore said.

Nor did it matter to him that they tipped him only $100. “I know a lot of people say I wouldn’t have gave them bonds back, he didn’t offer you but $100,” Moore said. “But I wasn’t looking for $100. My purpose was to give them back to the rightful owner. That was the bottom line.”

Joseph Howse, a spokesperson for the Neighborhood Service Organization, the operators of the shelter Moore frequented, said Moore’s actions should recast our ideas about the homeless.

“The next time you are walking down the street, that person you are brushing aside as, oh, this homeless person, that could someday be the person who gives you a helping hand,” Howse told Beliefnet. “You just don’t know who an angel is. That’s why you help the least of these.”

And many people have stepped up to help Moore. When the story of his deed ran in Michigan papers, people gave him gifts of money, clothes, food, and even returnable bottles. He now has an apartment and a car and is currently enrolled in a job retraining program where he is learning computers. He hopes to work his way to owning his own home repair business.

"Here's a man who by all rights should be worried and thinking about himself but takes the time to think about others," Dick Wolski, a Detroit man who helped pull together $1,200 for Moore, told a reporter for the Detroit News. "What a lesson. Isn't that what we're all supposed to be doing?"

To learn more about the Neighborhood Service Organization, click here.

View 2006 nominees' photo gallery.

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