WORCESTER — Luke Coelho doesn’t have a better word than “surprising” to describe finding a pouch full of jewelry worth thousands of dollars in the pocket of a donated jacket.
Trying on the jacket, which he received from Andy’s Attic, a clothing donation center at South High Community School, the high school senior would end up finding a litany of items, including two diamond rings and an emerald bracelet.
“I got surprised when I saw all the objects, but when I realized that the rings looked like wedding rings, I … realized that it was a sentimental thing. That it meant a lot to someone,” Coelho, 17, said.
Born in Massachusetts but raised in Brazil, Coelho moved to Worcester three months ago with the intention of finishing high school and enlisting in the Marines afterward.
He did not plan on drawing too much attention to himself once he arrived in the U.S., hoping instead to focus on getting good grades, training for boot camp and making friends. But that all changed once he put that jacket on and found the pouch in the pocket.
“I am a quiet guy and I don’t like a lot of attention … if I could choose, I would choose to not have that much attention,” he said. “But it’s a good thing, I think.”
While visiting his aunt’s mother, Coelho sifted through a bag of clothes he had received from the donation center, looking for something warm to wear while he helped do yardwork. He found the jacket, with the name “Dave” embroidered on one side and “AmeriPride” on the other.
“I just put on the jacket and felt something in the pocket,” he said. “I just saw the objects and that’s why I was really surprised, because it was a random situation.”
Unsure what he should do next, he sought the advice of his aunt, who serves as one of his legal guardians in the U.S., and her mother.
Diamond wedding ring
Both told him that the items seemed important and needed to be returned to their original owner.
“As soon as he showed it to me, my heart sank,” said Taryn Souza, Coelho’s aunt. “I have my own mother that I’m very close with, and it brought me to a place of, ‘What if that were me that were missing that jewelry?’ because I saw that wedding ring.”
She said she was proud of Coelho for coming to her and her mother when he found the jewelry, showing his honesty and maturity in the moment.
Souza, a former Worcester Public Schools teacher who now owns an ad agency, Fortissimo Ad Strategy, began searching for the jacket’s original owner the next day.
After dropping off Coelho and her 4-year-old son at school in the morning, she stopped by Andy’s Attic to see if there was any information about who had donated the jacket. There was none.
With not much to go off of, Souza began searching online for obituaries in Worcester for someone named “LORIDA,” the word, or name, embroidered in beads on the pouch.
“Turns out, the name on the pouch was not a name. It was Florida with an ‘F’ missing,” Souza said. “But I immediately felt like it was the belongings of someone who had passed.”
Next, Souza began searching for AmeriPride, the company name embroidered on the jacket, to see if she could get in touch with an employee named Dave.
She found that AmeriPride, a uniform services company, is now part of Aramark Uniform Services. Souza tried calling that company’s customer service and human resources department, but was unable to get the help she needed.
She then went to an address in Worcester listed on the company’s website, where she met two receptionists who immediately jumped on board to help her track down Dave.
One of the receptionists, Melissa Condon Kubasiak, recalled two Daves who had worked for AmeriPride. Because of the size of the jacket, she identified Dave Kenney, a retired truck driver for the company, as the probable original owner.
Once they had him on the phone, Souza tried to think of ways to confirm that Kenney was the person they were looking for. While he could not think of the specific items that were inside the pouch, he knew the initials that were engraved on some of the items: M.K.
“I knew instantly that was the right guy,” Souza said. “He gave me his address, and later that day, after I picked the boys up from school, we stopped at his house and delivered the items back.”
A native of Worcester, Kenney said he has had some tough times, particularly within the last year – his wife and mother died, and he’s dealt with health and financial problems.
“It was about $20,000 worth of jewelry. It was expensive stuff,” Kenney said. “Thank God there was Taryn and this young student.”
The jewelry belonged to Kenney’s mother-in-law and was meant to be given to his daughters. But before she died, Kenney’s wife had put the pouch of jewelry in his old work jacket without telling him.
When he received a call that a piece of clothing he had donated to Andy’s Attic contained family heirlooms, he was not only shocked, but relieved.
“My wife’s mother had passed and it was her mother’s … diamond ring. She actually used to wear her mother’s diamond ring and she had put all this stuff away obviously in my coat before she had died,” Kenney said. “For what reason? I have no idea. I don’t know how it ended up there.”
Kenney said he doesn’t want anyone to feel bad for him, as it’s his two kids who are “going through hell.
“Their grandmother passed, their mother passed and Dad’s not in good shape,” he said.
However, they are thrilled to have the jewelry back, Kenney said.
Coelho said it wasn’t until he sat down with Kenney that he began to understand just how important the items were to him and his family.
“When he told his story to me … it really touched me to get that back to him,” Coelho said.
The two families have been able to form a deeper bond, with Coelho saying he views Kenney as a genuine friend.
Coelho was also able to land a part-time job as a busboy at the Auburn Elks Lodge, thanks to Kenney helping connect him with the manager.
Kenney’s friend, Mike Casello, who runs the Shamrock Sports 508 podcast, posted the story online and it managed to go viral.
Coelho said the experience has helped bring him closer with his classmates and teachers at school, who now recognize him because of the story and compliment him for the decision he made to return the jewelry. Family members Coelho hasn’t spoken with in years have reached out to reconnect.
Kenney is in the process of trying to sell his home and isn’t sure where he might end up next, but he said the experience has brought a sense of joy and hope into his life.
“He’s such a good kid, and (Souza) such a great aunt, for the life lesson she’s not only teaching him, but teaching everyone involved,” Kenney said.
“If it … was someone else that got it, that maybe wouldn’t have made the best decision,” Souza said. “Him (Coelho) coming from halfway across the world and him being the one that it was put into his hands, he was the catalyst to all of the good that’s come out of it.”