If doing the right thing is its own reward, Glen James appears on the verge of a big-time bonus.
The homeless Boston man who turned in a backpack holding $42,000 in cash and travelers checks is attracting donations from across the nation. By early Thursday, an online fund set up by a Virginia man who has never been to Boston had collected almost $100,000.
And Ethan Whittington said he planned to keep the fund open for as long as people wanted to give.
“I just felt that this was somebody who needed to be rewarded for his good deeds,” said the 27-year-old Whittington, a marketing accounts manager from Midlothian, Va. “It’s just inspiring to see somebody do an honorable thing like that. If everybody could have the humanity that he did that day, and be together and warm, it’d be a special thing.”
Whittington thinks $250,000 — and a home — is now a reasonable goal for James, a soft-spoken man in his mid-50s who has been walking the streets for five years.
The fund had tallied donations ranging from $1 to $500 from more than 3,400 people by Wednesday evening, according to Whittington, who also has received offers of lifetime dental care, computers, furniture, clothes, and jobs for James.
“I think he’s more shocked than anything,” said Whittington, who has had one phone conversation with James. “You know, $250,000 can change his life for the rest of his life.”
James burst into the public eye this week after he flagged down police at the South Bay shopping center in Dorchester, where he noticed a backpack that had been left near an overturned shopping carriage.
The backpack, containing $2,400 in cash, nearly $40,000 in travelers checks, and a passport, had been left behind by a visiting student from China. The student and his money were quickly reunited, and James received a citation of appreciation Monday from Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis, who commended James for an “extraordinary show of character and honesty.”
The end to a nice story? Hardly.
Whittington read a news report about James and went to work. He set an initial goal of $50,000 for the online fund but was startled by the response.
“I want to keep it going,” Whittington said. “Anywhere in America, you’re inundated with negative news on a daily basis. We’re constantly hearing about how Democrats and Republicans can’t get along, or three people were shot downtown, or George Zimmerman and the Trayvon Martin case.
“You know, we have to come together and make this nation better.”
One contributor to the website, Mark Attebery of Texas, wrote, “Please thank Mr. James. I would be proud to call a MAN like that a friend.
James could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Whittington’s work has generated questions along with tens of thousands of dollars. On the donation website, skeptics ask how donors can be sure the money will make its way to James, who spends nights in a homeless shelter and uses food stamps and spare change to get by.
Whittington pledged to bring the check to James personally. Before Whittington delivers that windfall, the fund automatically deducts a 5 percent fee from each donation, plus an additional processing charge of nearly 3 percent, according to information posted on the gofundme website.
“I’m not keeping a penny of it,” Whittington said.
Lin Whittington, his mother, said she cried when she first heard about Ethan’s involvement. “Your children surprise you all the time,” she said in a phone interview.
The project spiraled to a scale Ethan never imagined, said his father, Kim.
“He thought it would be a quick little thing, and he could send some money to the fellow,” Kim Whittington said. “He has really been one that cares about other people more than he cares about himself.”
Ethan’s mother vouched for him on the donation website.
“His heart has been touched by Mr. James’s story,” her posting said. “I assure you, as his Mom, I will hold him accountable.”
Ethan, who was raised in Pike Road, Ala., chuckled at the posting. “That sounds like her,” he said.
“My parents taught me everything — to be compassionate and to have love for this world,” Whittington said.
In the coming days, Whittington said, he will speak with James to determine whether he even wants a house, where the money should go, and how to proceed in his best interests.
“I want to find out what his past life is like, and if there’s anybody around the Boston area that he’s close to,” Whittington said.
“I think he understands the implications of getting this amount of money. I don’t want to hear that this becomes a negative story a couple of weeks from now, that somebody robbed him or whatever,” Whittington added. “I want to be responsible to him. I just don’t want to take a lot of cash up to him and say, here you go.”
Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.