A recorder, receipts, and audio cassettes on a desk

It was March 27, 2020.

A few men knocked on the window of my car. It was 10 a.m. I was alone in a bank’s parking lot with a car full of newly acquired groceries and about $23 worth of tips in hand.

There was a drive-thru ATM, but the line was on the opposite side of the bank entrance. So I thought parking and walking to the ATM would be faster. I should’ve used the drive-thru ATM. Or driven away. Or listened to better judgment.

Yet, when a man knocks on your window—begs for help because he was just trying to get back home to San Francisco, cries that his car was crashed by a rich lawyer, insists that only you can cash out his check and pleads that it will do you no harm—of course, looking from the outside in, that sounds suspect.

However, the effects of the pandemic had just hit. Quarantine had just begun. Weren’t all of us facing extraordinarily bad circumstances? 

Weren’t all of us facing extraordinarily bad circumstances? 

Falling for this scam is one of the most humiliating and grave mistakes I’ve ever made. Just in case I’m not the only one naive enough to fall for it, cashing a check for someone else will most likely leave you covering the damages of a false check.

Perhaps, the security guard present should’ve asked questions. Perhaps, the bank teller should have asked me questions, looked at the check closer or at the very least not allowed me to cash a check twice as large as what was even in my bank account. (At least that’s what my bank teller friends told me later on.)

Ultimately, I was left with a bank account with twice as much money missing as my husband and I even had. The bank treated us like we were criminals, even with at least two security cameras inside and outside of the bank catching footage of these men. 

The bank would not reimburse our theft or even investigate it. I was the one who went through with the transaction, right? The police assigned a detective to our case, but they blamed the unlikelihood of our case ever getting solved on “California voters not prioritizing money crimes.” The amount taken was detrimental to us, but it was not enough for a lawyer to step in and fight for us. With my husband unemployed and me furloughed from my job, we were left completely stranded. 

With my husband unemployed and me furloughed from my job, we were left completely stranded. 

After the most bitter fight my husband and I have ever had, we decided to do the only thing I could think to do: we made a GoFundMe page. Desperation was the only reason I even went through with it. I knew I got us into this mess, and it would have been a hell of a lot easier for a big bank to spare several thousand dollars than for our equally struggling unemployed family and friends.

I posted the page on Facebook with no additional information. I didn’t tag anyone in the post or send the page to anyone. I was embarrassed that I didn’t have enough to cover my mistakes myself. I was embarrassed that even with a college degree and “doing well in school,” I couldn’t seem to get a job that wasn’t at a coffee shop or have the guts to go after what I really want—an acting career. I was embarrassed that at age 28, my life looked virtually no different than it did when I was 18. I had no one to blame but myself for that one. 

Still, the page was active and out there. It didn’t take long for the calls to start flooding in, and miraculously, it didn’t take long for help to start flooding in too.

It didn’t take long for the calls to start flooding in, and miraculously, it didn’t take long for help to start flooding in too.

I come from an aggressively evangelical background. Does anyone else remember those “testimonials” couples gave during offering at church when they suddenly got some check in the mail “for the exact amount they needed at the exact time they needed it?” All those years those stories felt like commercials for giving money to people who were about as trustworthy as the men who knocked on my car window.

Yet, the tiny little house church we started investing in a year ago got an anonymous donation of $1,000 that the pastor immediately gave to us. My high school friends I had not spoken to in 10 years donated. Acquaintances, our best friends and even our exes donated. More than 100 people we love and strangers we didn’t know from all across the country donated. Even more people sent messages, wishing they knew sooner so they could’ve helped as well. I’m still crying about this, even as I write it. 

In just a few days, all that was stolen from us was restored. In a week, we received twice as much as what was stolen. In short, we ended up with four times the amount of what we originally had before we became victims of theft. 

So, what did I learn from this? I certainly learned the practicality of diversifying our assets and the importance of listening to my gut instinct, the first time, yes. That same evangelical background is prodding me to leave verses about how God saves us even when we don’t deserve it or the value of generosity (which I still believe both to be true) ,but I’m going to leave that be. The most important thing we can ever do is to invest in the people around us, as deeply as we can, for as long as they are around.

The most important thing we can ever do is to invest in the people around us, as deeply as we can, for as long as they are around.

As much as my beliefs have changed in the past 10 years, the one thing that has remained the same is my belief and diehard passion to somehow leave people better than I found them. Community is really all we have, and in a time where nothing is certain, more than ever we need to fight for the people in our communities with everything we’ve got.

Because the truth is, you never know when you’ll need someone to fight for you.

Have people ever rallied around you to support and help you? How have you seen the real and tangible impact of community?

Image via Chaunté VaughnDarling Issue No. 13

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