Touched by an angel

Colleen and Emily Foley’s foster dog Monkey sniffs for $100 clues. Credit:

Colleen Foley received another crisp $100 bill in the mail last week. It came addressed to her and her 17-year-old daughter Emily at their modest Bloomington home the way the others came in December, March, and July of this year: In an unsigned card, with “To Colleen and Emily Foley” typed out and taped ransom-note style, with a return address of, only, “Minneapolis.”

Four cards, four $100 bills, and a year’s worth of mystery.

“It’s beyond wonderful in this crazy world,” said Foley. “The first time, I called everyone I thought it might be, and everyone denied it, so I stopped asking. It’s so so so nice, but in a way it’s frustrating because I just want to say thank you.”

Paying it forward and giving to the max has become big business in the charitable giving game, but someone out there — Santa Claus? The Lake Harriet Elf? — is going back to basics with their charitable giving and made the Foley family their as-yet unexplained target of anonymous love. 

“It really has helped us,” said Colleen, who works in risk management at Lifetime Fitness. “I’ve got a good job, but I’m a single mom by choice, and there’s no question that we live paycheck-to-paycheck. That hundred bucks is kind of a big deal to us. We try not to spend it on something like Cub Foods; we try to spend it on something we need, something we wouldn’t ordinarily get.

“I got a bonus at work a couple months ago and I gave my sister Jen, who’s got three kids, a $100 cash and it’s just cool. It’s fun to be able to do that for somebody, because I know they’re like us, living paycheck-to-paycheck, and I wish I could do it more. It makes you think about what you can do for somebody else. It’s fabulous.”

In the Hindu and Buddhist tradition, “karma” translates literally to “to do.” Often mistaken for fate born of good or bad actions, in practice karma is about deliberate and willful action that sets in motion a chain reaction. Whoever is sending $100 bills to the Foley family is practicing karma in its purest form, and their action serves as a giving model for the rest of us, not to mention a reminder of the riches to be had from small gifts, be it raking a neighbor’s lawn, holding a door, or delivering a kind word to a stranger or loved one.

To that end, Colleen believes her anonymous windfall has something to do with her lifelong passion for fostering and adopting animals. Her current menagerie houses four rescue dogs, a foster dog, two rescue cats, and two rescue horses. She’s a naturally giving person, a font of hard-won positivity, but the time, energy, and love needed to maintain her stable can be exhausting. Maybe that’s the inspiration for the free money.

Maybe it’s something else.

In 2008, Colleen’s brother Steve passed away suddenly. Three years later, her brother Kevin died just as suddenly. Last year, her “best buddy” Kevin Hazlett died. All three men were part of the Twin Cities music community, and the combined losses shook Colleen to her core.

“What happened with my brothers, you know… Hard times,” she said, her bubbly voice going soft. “You go through a lot of stressful times. A lot of anxiety, and depression obviously, and it’s almost like some sort of perseverance [has paid off], and I also think these animals keep me sane, too.

“Now I feel like things have turned around in that regard. I’ve had to keep my head above water and tried to stay strong through all that and I just feel like it might have something to do with that. Like, we went through hard times and maybe this is, not a reward, I don’t want to use that word, but maybe something coming back.

“It’s just amazing. It’s very very uplifting. I just got that job two years ago, and things could not be better. I’ve been able to take my boring insurance career and put it into a really fun company. It’s like things have really fallen in place in the last couple of years, and then when somebody starts dropping money gifts on me and my daughter, well, it’s just a thrill, and to know that somebody can do that is a good lesson for her, too: ‘Look at what you can do for somebody.’”

For now, the mystery donor remains at large and could strike again at any time.

“We’ve stopped short of dusting for fingerprints,” said Colleen. “It’s a mystery, but it’s a really nice mystery.”

Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet. He can be reached at [email protected] and www.jimwalshmpls.com.