Press Article: Lost, found, yours?

Lost, found, yours?

Reprinted From: Standard-Times - Feb 10, 2002

By ROBERT LOVINGER,
Standard-Times staff writer

Those single socks you've been searching for?

Fear not. They're waiting in the lost-and-found cabinet at the Flagship Cinema in New Bedford's North End.

Human beings have too much stuff. Now and then, they shed some of it. That's why lost-and-founds exist.

Well, sort of.

Of course, a lot of what people lose is far from superfluous.

"People will come in wearing a winter coat and then leave without it. That's weird," said Nancy Gauthier, Flagship's acting manager.

The cabinet's bounty grows daily: hats, gloves, wallets, keys, eyeglasses, single shoes, cell phones, purses, credit cards, pagers and more.

This week, a staffer came upon an abandoned garage-door opener. Now and then, someone discovers a used condom. "Those, we don't put into the lost and found," Ms. Gauthier said.

Every four or five months, anything of value is brought to the Salvation Army or Goodwill.

Amazingly, few people call asking whether their items were found. "I can't figure that one out," Ms. Gauthier said.

Nevertheless, the same is true at the Leroy Wood Elementary School in Fairhaven, according to Principal Christine Hardman. Few parents stop by or call to ask whether anyone found Kyle's expensive, hooded sweatshirt.

The school's lost-and-found tub sits near the front door. It used to be a cardboard box. "I decided it was unsightly, so I bought one of those plastic tubs."

"By the end of the school year, it's chock-a-block full," Ms. Hardman said. It brims with clothing, mostly, plus the occasional jumprope.

Near the end of the year, she'll put the box in the lunchroom and have kids parade past it, the hope being that they claim something and take it home.

There's no concern that children will take something which isn't theirs. The opposite is the problem.

"Kids are reluctant to bring things home," Ms. Hardman reported. It's too much work. "Sometimes you have to rely on covert sources, like the kid who calls out, 'Hey, Johnny, isn't that your shirt?'"

Next June, when school shuts down, Ms. Hardman will take whatever's left over and bring it to a Goodwill drop-off box or similar venue.

When she taught at Fairhaven's Hastings Middle School, students sometimes left gym clothes in lockers before vacations. Generally, the aroma made those items ineligible for lost-and-found placement.

And then there's the Internet lost-and-found (lostandfound.com), a Web site that bills itself as "the largest, free Lost and Found classified resource on the web."

You can report lost or found items there, search for found items, or search for owners of lost items. Stuff ranges from ferrets to luggage, artwork to garden tools.

The site posts "items of the day." This week, one was a White Maltese from Michigan. The owner's message: "Weighs 5 lbs, 15 years old, family pet, miss terribley (sic)."

Also on the 'Net, Missingtreasures.com posts text ads for free. Photo ads cost $12.99.

And there's a lost-and-found Web site specifically for birds, one for quilts, and another for Marine Corps veterans.

The Wareham Public Library boasts a couple of lost-and-found boxes, including one in the children's room.

"Right now -- let me count -- I've got five jackets hanging here," children's librarian Marcia Hickey said.

Diaper bags, stuffed animals, reading glasses, blankets and keys get left behind.

Strangely enough, a lot of books are lost there. But they're books people return to the library that don't belong to the library.

Parents call now and then, hoping their kids left missing textbooks there.

Ms. Hickey heard about someone leaving a prom dress in the stacks. "I think it was done deliberately, though. It's pretty hard to lose a prom dress."

Boys lose more stuff than girls, she said. And spring and fall are the most likely times for outerwear to be left. That's because brisk mornings are often followed by warm afternoons, leading people to shed jackets.

Parents of little ones tend to find things lost at the library "because they're coming weekly for story times."

That's why librarians leave items out for a couple of weeks before putting them in the boxes. That way, kids and parents can spot things easily.

"Another librarian just walked by with box of doughnuts from a mom who lost a baby bottle," Ms. Hickey said, adding with a laugh, "We don't usually get rewarded."

In the fall, she puts up a big sign calling for people to claim items. Leftover clothing is washed and donated to the Salvation Army. Books are saved for the library's sale.

The North Dartmouth Mall provides a lost-and-found for its smaller tenants, while big stores supply their own facilities.

Manager Tim Colby said the mall keeps items for 30 days, then donates them to the Salvation Army.

But he noted that a surprisingly small amount of stuff gets left behind by shoppers, considering that nearly 7 million of them stop by annually.

Old Rochester Regional High School in Mattapoisett empties its lost-and-found bin quarterly, typically donating a garbage bag filled with clothing to the Salvation Army.

Eyeglasses are given to the Lions Club for its recycling effort, ORR school secretary Ruth Jefferson said. Cell phone owners can sometimes be found by pressing "home" on the phone's keypad.

Ms. Jefferson makes regular announcements inviting students to come to the office and see if any of the items are theirs. "I'll say, 'Your mom and dad would be very happy if you found them.'"

But, she conceded, "Kids will not come down to check it out. I think they're embarrassed, or they don't want to bother."

However, they do come looking for lost textbooks, because the replacement cost is considerable.

At the end of the school year, Ms. Jefferson said, "The lockers are amazing." Gym lockers and street lockers yield a trove of watches, cell phones, wallets, eyeglasses and clothing.

Lockers are also the place the school recovers a lot of lost books.

Ms. Jefferson is happy to report that "Ninety-nine percent of the wallets are returned with the contents intact."

The most unusual item left behind at ORR? "Shoes. How can they leave without their shoes?" she asks.SOMEWHERE IN CANADA there is a man who is not wearing his leather jacket. That's because he left it at the Wyndham Roanoke Hotel when he was a guest there.

The hotel's director of housekeeping, Wanda Dillon, tried to send the jacket to its owner but found out that it's illegal to ship leather across the border. She did mail him the papers that were in the jacket's pockets.

The owner told her he will come back to Roanoke for his jacket. It awaits him at the Wyndham, neatly packed in a brown box on a metal shelf in the basement - just one item among thousands in the world of lost and found.

The Wyndham and the Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center usually hold unclaimed items for six months before they are given to the employee who found them. An exception was the live fish found swimming in its bowl in a room at Hotel Roanoke. The owner didn't call, so it was given to the employee who found it after just five days.

The Wyndham is good at reuniting people with

the stuff they leave behind. "We're able to get 95 percent to 98 percent of the items back to the people," said Dillon. But hotel guests pay for the shipping.

A tour of lost and found departments at two hotels, a book store, a synagogue, restaurant, movie theater and two civic centers in the Roanoke Valley turned up a pile of cellphones, a wardrobe of coats and jackets, a drawerful of telephone adapters, enough sunglasses to last several Caribbean vacations and a vast array of eyeglasses.

Not to mention keys. Remote keyless auto entries. Beepers. Pagers. Jewelry. Single gloves and mittens. Single shoes. Belts. Watches. All waiting to be claimed, along with binoculars, cameras, a rainbow of umbrellas, a ible, an oak wine rack and a video labeled "Our Family Christmas."

"We had a camera here for two months," said Alan Payne, a manager at Texas Steakhouse. "Finally, the lady called and she couldn't believe we still had it. That call made her day."

Once a customer called the restaurant to say she had left her wallet there. The wallet hadn't been turned in, but the customer insisted it was there. "She was convinced one of the employees took it," Payne said. "We finally found it underneath a booth when we were cleaning." When the owner reclaimed her wallet, she didn't say she was sorry, and she didn't say thanks.

Unclaimed items often end up with a charity. Eyeglasses, for example, go to the Lions Club of Virginia, which recycles them.

Items given to Hotel Roanoke employees sometimes are donated to the hotel's holiday bazaar, where they are auctioned to benefit the Grant-a-Wish program.

At Carmike 10 Theater at Tanglewood Mall, only managers are allowed to rummage through purses for an ID. "I don't want my employees responsible" for any liability, said manager Richard Kobert.

"It's kind of creepy going through people's stuff," said Susan Bryant-Owens, a senior secretary at the Roanoke Civic Center who has a waist-deep pile of unclaimed articles in the corner behind her desk. When she has to rummage for an ID, she always wears gloves and always has a witness. "You can get stuck by a needle, and no one wants to be accused of stealing," she said.

When she returns items, she uses certified mail so the owners have to sign for them. And the civic c enter pays the shipping costs. Owens tries diligently to reunite patrons with their belongings. "Hopefully, they'll come back to the civic center for another show without bad feelings," she said.

She recently returned a 16-year-old boy's paycheck after taking pains to find his address. He never responded.

Not everyone is so ungrateful. "We had a lady who attended a New Year's Eve dance two years ago," Owens said. "She lost her diamond wedding band on the dance floor. The lady called the civic center, inquiring about the ring. It wasn't turned in." As luck would have it, a temporary employee found the wedding band while changing the floor over to ice. The happy owner wanted the name and address not only of the person who found the band but of his boss.

"If you send out 10 items, you might get one letter," said Jerry Bowles, a risk management officer at Hotel Roanoke. Either way, "it makes you feel good knowing I got something back to them."

Patrons of Mill Mountain Theat re should look closely at the scarves worn by actors and the umbrellas on stage. Articles left at the theater sometimes serve as stage props until reclaimed.

"I don't feel comfortable throwing anything away," said Jeannette Kenny, house manager and volunteer coordinator. "I'll try to track the person down," especially in the case of something valuable such as jewelry.

Sometimes she finds the owners by using the theater's computer system to find out who was sitting near where an item was found.

While the managers of other businesses will contact owners if they find identification, hotels tend to wait for the owners to call - especially when the article left behind is something like a wedding band. It's a way of respecting the privacy of their guests.

Hotel Wyndham and Hotel Roanoke keep detailed logs of their lost and found articles. They're wrapped in plastic and carefully labeled. Wallets, credit cards, checkbooks, cash and jewelry are usually locked up.

The log at Hotel Wyndham recorded 347 lost items between August 1999 and the end of that year. Of those, 99 were reclaimed.

At Hotel Roanoke, more than 500 items are neatly bagged and placed in bins that are numbered according to the days of the month. This system allows hotel employees to easily locate lost items, which currently include clothin , radios, pillows and even a bridal bouquet. The hotel's risk management office, aka lost and found, is open 24 hours a day. About half the lost items get returned and are shipped at hotel expense.

"I would like to think that if I left something anywhere I would want it cared for with as much energy as we put into it," said Phillip Davis, director of operations at Hotel Roanoke. Don't lose your cool, too, 'recovery expert' advises

  Losing something can be traumatic. Owners often have no idea where they may have left their keys, jewelry, briefcases, cellphones or eyeglasses . They panic. Ransack their house. Check every crevice in their car. They may place an ad in a newspaper or on lost and found Web sites such as http://www.lostandfound.com (The Internet Lost and Found). Some fervently pray. Others accuse someone of stealing the item that's missing.

When you lose something, says Michael Solomon, don't look for it. "This is the most common mistake people make. And it can doom their search from the start," said Solomon, author of "How to Find Lost Objects."

To remember where something is, he says, you must be in the proper frame of mind. Otherwise, it's you who are lost - not those keys or that umbrella.

Solomon stresses the 3 C's: comfort, calmness and confidence. "Start by making yourself comfortable in an armchair or sofa. Have a cup of tea, perhaps, or a stick of gum, or pipeful of tobacco. Next, empty your mind of any unsettling thoughts. Pretend that the sea is lapping at your feet. Or that you're sitting in a garden full of birds and flowers. Finally, tell yourself you will locate that missing object," said Solomon, a professor at Baltimore School for the Arts. Staff writer Lois Caliri was inspired to write this story after losing the diamond ring her mother gave her as a high school graduation gift. Caliri had the ring for nearly 30 years. She even underwent hypnosis in hopes of finding it. The hypnotist told her that some people find a sense of closure after hypnosis even if they don't find what they lost. Caliri found neither closure nor her ring.

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