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Woman who returned $543 she found in her KFC order praised for 'goodness and honesty'

“I was raised to know that if it’s not yours, you don’t keep it,” said JoAnn Oliver, who has been caring for her husband with terminal cancer.
KFC customer and good Samaritan JoAnn Oliver.
KFC customer and good Samaritan JoAnn Oliver.Getty / Courtesy Jackson Police

The honesty of one Georgia woman is being applauded across the country, all because of a lunchtime hankering for 11 herbs and spices.

On Sept. 14, JoAnn Oliver, an accounts payable specialist at Head Start program in Jackson, Georgia, had gone to her local KFC restaurant drive-thru on her lunch break. After the grandmother of one received her order, she made her way back to her job and sat down for lunch, where she made a surprising discovery.

“I told my boss I’m going to KFC, I’m gonna get a pot pie that I wanted,” JoAnn Oliver told TODAY Food. Oliver said that that location was out of chicken potpies that day, so she instead ordered a chicken sandwich with extra pickles, and after receiving her order, she returned back to work for her lunch break.

Oliver sat down and set up her meal — including fries, a drink and the sandwich, which was wrapped in a foil sandwich envelope. When she opened her lunch and removed her sandwich, she was shocked at what she found under her meal — a wad of cash, innocently placed beneath her sammy. 

“My co-worker says, ‘What is it? What’s wrong?’ and I turned the bag around to show her. And it was full of money. She started taking pictures. And so I put the sandwich down,” Oliver said.

Oliver considered what she could do with the money, telling TODAY that she is caring for her husband, Hilbern, who has suffered two strokes and is battling terminal cancer. But in counting the stack of $20 bills, fives and ones, she knew what she had to do once she counted past $500.

“And then when my coworker says ‘Shopping!’ I said, 'No, I can’t keep this, it ain’t mine,'" Oliver said. “I literally did not want anything to do with the money. That’s why I put it back in the bag and slid it to the side. I didn’t touch it even after that.”

After calling the non-emergency line for the local police, Oliver said she waited with the money and her sandwich off to the side like evidence until an officer arrived. The officer, from the Jackson Police Department, counted the cash (and a dime that was in the envelope, too) and discovered the total to be $543.10. Oliver accompanied the officer to the KFC location that it first came from.

After Oliver and the officer returned the money to the KFC location, the chain of events that led to the erroneous extra in Oliver’s meal was revealed: a worker accidentally used a food envelope containing the money for Oliver’s sandwich order. That money was meant for deposit and would have likely cost the manager their job, according to a conversation police had with the worker.

“Honestly, that day, I was so hungry, because I probably hadn’t ate the day before,” Oliver said. “But I remember telling people, 'I’m hungry. I just want my sandwich!'"

Taking a photograph of Oliver after KFC refunded her for her lunch order and gave her a new sandwich (sans cash bonus), the Jackson Police Department published a Facebook post to honor her bit of selflessness.

“Character and integrity is doing the right thing when no one is looking!!!” reads the post on the Jackson Police Department’s Facebook, which has almost 500 likes as of this writing. The JPD lauded Oliver for her honesty: “Not only did Mrs. Oliver do the right thing but she saved the managers job. Mrs. Oliver thank you for reminding us that we have amazing Citizens in Jackson and its people like you that make us great!”

For her part, Oliver realizes she could have quietly kept the money and used it for gas, shopping or the expenses associated with her husband’s care, which require bi-weekly purchases of items like ABD pads for his wounds, colostomy bags and medicines.

“I mean, yeah, it’s up there, I spend anywhere from $300 to $500 a month just on supplies,” Oliver said. Still, she knew what she had to do when she faced the moral decision that day.

“I was raised to know that if it’s not yours, you don’t keep it,” Oliver explained. “It’s one of the main things that I’ve been saying ever since. It was not mine to keep!”

Since news of Oliver's selflessness spread, the higher-ups at KFC got in touch with her and with their help, she set up a GoFundMe to help raise money for her husband's care.

The fundraising drive has already amassed $5,640 of its goal. The initial donation, made by KFC, was 10 times the amount Oliver returned that day, becoming a living embodiment of the truism "Keep putting out good. It will come back to you tenfold in unexpected ways."

"We're so grateful for customers like JoAnn who go above and beyond to do the right thing," KFC wrote on the GoFundMe page. "Your KFC family is thinking of you, Hilbern and family!"