Wakefield natives spread cheer with free money
WAKEFIELD — On a rainy, gray late afternoon, Steven Grant and Richard Cook chatted in front of the Canterbury nursery school in Wakefield. The site is just about sacred for the lawyer and the psychiatrist, who were toddlers when they met at the school 33 years ago. Since then, they've been best friends and still do almost everything together.
The two work full time, but are also in the business of giving away $20 bills.
Their plan was simple when they began giving away money about a year ago. With the hopes of brightening a stranger's day, they decided they would hide $20 in an envelope, place it out in the open for anyone to find, and then announce the location on their website, plentyof- twenties.com, and on Facebook. Within weeks, word got out about the free money being found in dozens of Boston area cities and towns.
The two men now have 2,100 people following them on Facebook, and send out Twitter alerts and e-mail blasts after they hide the money. They've even developed an app so people with smart phones can access their messages.
"This looks like a good spot," said Grant, before he hopped over a short fence and shimmied up a small maple tree with some tape, an envelope, and a $20 bill on Bryant Street in Wakefield, where he still lives. He quickly placed the bill in the envelope, taped it to a branch, and jumped to the sidewalk. About an hour after Grant posted the location on plentyoftwenties.com, the money was found by a grateful resident who dutifully reported the bounty on the website.
Over the last year, Cook and Grant have given away more than $7,000, and in recent months, businesses have been approaching them to help subsidize their project. These days, private companies are giving up to half of the twenties away, in exchange for promotional rights on the website.
"People like to find or win money; it's certainly a smart business model," said Lisa Urbaczewski, who helps sponsor the site and co-owns the Dockside restaurants in Malden, Chelsea, and Wakefield. She said the site has been good for her business, which has held $20 and gift certificate giveaway nights with Cook and Grant.
In addition, the men donate $2 for each $20 that's found to charities. Cook, the psychiatrist, has a practice in Brookline and now lives in Boston, said there's no deep psychological meaning behind the money giveaway. "Everybody could use 20 bucks," he said.
The two, who were voted class clowns when they graduated from Wakefield Memorial High School in 1994, see their latest venture as a continuation of doing many silly things over the years.
As teens they used to film comedy sketches, such as rolling up to fast-food drive-through windows at night and ordering breakfast, long after that menu had been taken down.
In recent years, they fulfilled a common goal when they decided to visit all six of the Border Cafe franchises in one day, beginning in Delaware, heading north to Woodbridge and Fairfield, N.J., and finishing in Burlington, Saugus, and Cambridge.
Grant and Cook said spontaneity has played a major role in their latest venture. Grant usually hides the money during the week, and Cook takes over on weekends. There is no set time each day that money is hidden; venues are arbitrarily chosen, and often dictated by where they happen to be driving.
Since they have hidden a $20 every day for more than a year, they've placed bills at a number of local icons, such as the Ted Williams statue at Fenway Park, and near the dinosaur at the mini-golf course on Route 1.
The men sometimes like to put the money near signs, and, in the past, have chosen sites including Endicott College and Gorton's of Gloucester. They have a fondness for taping money under benches in pizza shops, and leaving a $20 under discounted wine in liquor stores.
Their personal favorite donations were in Boston: Cook left a $20 opposite Senator John F. Kerry's Beacon Hill home, and Grant slipped one inside a purse at the Chanel Boutique on Newbury Street.
The two also have started to track trends that began as a result of the giveaway. Leaving a $20 bill in downtown Boston takes some guile.
"You don't want to be seen or blow your cover," Cook explained. Still, with so many people following their website on a regular basis, people seem to reach Boston locations the fastest. "If we hide one in Boston at lunchtime, it goes within five minutes," said Cook.
Among the followers, a whole subset culture has formed, along with different strategies as people compete to get to the money first.
Shortly after finishing a Thanksgiving meal last November, a fire broke out in Lisa Mulcahey's home in Somerville. The house was saved but her husband, Scott, suffered burns trying to retrieve family artifacts during the blaze.
The night after the fire, Lisa found out a $20 had been left in Wakefield. She rounded up her two teenage sons and hopped in the car, hoping the ride would change the family's mood. Within an hour, one of her sons found the money outside a downtown gym.
"It was huge for us," she said. "The mere fact of finding a $20 bill was like sunlight after a major storm. It shows you that there's good faith. We all sat there in the car and cried."
Since then, the family has made looking for twenties a weekly ritual. Lisa has an app on her phone that notifies her when money has been hidden. If it's close to Somerville, the family drives together, and these days they bring along a flashlight in case the money's been hidden in a wooded area.
They have won five times, and sometimes have let newcomers keep the money even if they have come upon the envelope first. When they win, they donate $10 of each find to charity.
Gail Shevlin of Wakefield also follows the site. Last year her sister, Sue Tracy, called her and told her about a $20 hidden under one of the plastic cows on the front lawn of the Hilltop Steak House on Route 1 in Saugus. Shevin happened to be driving in Saugus, and soon found the money. The sisters returned to the Hilltop the next day and used the bill to buy lunch.
"It's only $20 but it felt like a bonus in life," said Shevin.
There still are twenties out there that have yet to be found. And sometimes, Grant goes off the grid and leaves — exposed — folded-up bills in places he thinks they belong. The most recent were stuck in Fenway Park's bullpen fence and center field wall after the last Red Sox home game of the year, when management allowed fans on the field.
Cook and Grant aren't sure how big their enterprise will grow, but they are committed to giving away a $20 every day for the foreseeable future. They enjoy it as much as their followers.
Said Cook, "It's an escape each day."