Homeless women in San Jose return thousands in cash to rightful owner

A group of homeless people in an encampment in San Jose jumped into action to help a neighbor who lost almost everything in a recent fire.

Two of the good Samaritans were women who found a large amount of cash that belongs to the fire victim never hesitated in doing the right thing.  

On Thanksgiving eve at an encampment near San Jose International Airport, the women were among four homeless people who sifted through the rubble and debris to salvage what they could for a neighbor named George whose van was destroyed by the fire.  

"If my stuff burned up, I would hope that somebody who find it, would help me," said Gretchen Pace.  

The van burned last Wednesday.

Two men saved George's two dogs. The women found cash, thousands of dollars, that George told them he had stashed in the van.

"That night, before I found the money, he was saying I just lost my money that I was saving to go home and visit family. I haven't seen my family in 10 years.  He needs to see his family," Pace said. "What saved the money was this." 

Then she held up a blanket, where the money was wrapped inside. 

Kimberly Williams said she found another bundle of cash belonging to George in a tin can among the wreckage.  

"It was burned on the end but the middle was fully visible. The serial number and everything was all intact. I don't know how much it was. I didn't count it .  I just got all excited about it," said Williams.  

Both women said they went right to George and returned the money.

"I just handed it to him and he started crying and said oh my gosh, why did you do this? I said it's your money.  It's not mine," said Pace. "He offered me money. I said no. Give me enough for a pack of cigarettes. He goes, let me take you out for dinner. I said coffee and a donut is enough for me."  

Advocates who told KTVU about the good Samaritans called them heroes.

When the women were asked if they consider themselves heroes, Pace replied: "No, I don't  because if anybody in their right mind , and heart and soul,  it's the holiday season.  You would do what I did. "

"Anybody that has compassion or empathy would just do that naturally," said Williams.   

The folks who helped George said they have a lot to  be thankful for. They're grateful that he and his two dogs survived and that they were able to help him in some small way. 

A friend of George said he's hospitalized and being treated for an unrelated illness, but that he's surprised and grateful for what his neighbors did.

Amber Lee is a reporter with KTVU. Email Amber at Amber.Lee@Fox.com or text/leave message at 510-599-3922. Follow her on Facebook @AmberKTVU,  Instagram @AmberKTVU  or Twitter @AmberKTVU