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Man Spends Year Of Unemployment Giving His Money To Strangers

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WASHINGTON -- When Reed Sandridge, 36, was first laid off from his job at a D.C. nonprofit in Sept. 2009, he spent about a month sleeping in and doing all the things he didn't have time to do when he was working full time. It wasn't until his second month of unemployment rolled around that the stark reality of joblessness began to sink in.

"I realized that the average person was spending seven months or more unemployed, and that idea started to play a little bit on my outlook on things," he told HuffPost. "I got a little depressed. I wanted a job, I'd been working since I was 13, so I really wanted some type of responsibility and also to connect with my local community."

But, like millions of other Americans, Sandridge couldn't find a job. So he decided to create his own sense of community and responsibility.

"I looked at my finances and realized I had enough savings that I could go about a year and have a little leftover," he said. "I thought, why don't I take that remainder and give 10 dollars a day to a person I don't know? Get out of the house, engage with the community, and make somebody's day?"

On Dec. 15, 2009, the anniversary of his mother's passing, Sandridge began his $10-a-day giveaway project. The recipients could be anyone from a homeless person to a bus driver to a businessman in a suit, and Sandridge says he promised them all that he would not judge the way they spent the money as long as they were completely honest with him about where it was going. He looked at it as a kind of social experiment.

"I was really curious to know, what is the marginal propensity for people to save or spend money that is found?" he said. "Most people said they were either going to give it to someone else or use it to buy something for someone else. Coffee was another pretty common response. Alcohol was number four on the list."

Sandridge said his project started out a little shaky when the first couple of people he approached with $10 rejected his offer.

"I went to Dupont Circle on a really cold day and said to this man, 'Excuse me, I'd like to give you something,' and he told me to go to hell," Sandridge said. "I was so nervous, I'm sure that it showed. I know it's not a normal thing to do to go up to someone and offer them money."

The second person he approached was a professor from American University who told him to give the money to someone who needed it more. So Sandridge spotted a man shining shoes on the corner of the street and was finally able to give away his first $10 bill.

"His name was Knox," Sandridge recalled. "He had an overwhelming fragrance of alcohol on his breath. He was drinking eggnog at the time. A very caring and kind individual, though, and he was very honest about the fact that he was going to spend the money on food and alcohol."

Over the course of the next year, Sandridge documented a number of interesting encounters with people that have stood out in his memory. On Aug. 17, he gave $10 to Yab F., a 74-year-old homeless man from Ethiopia who was napping on a piece of cardboard on the side of the street. Sandridge says he asked Yab what he planned to do with the money, and Yab said he was going to give it right back to him because he hadn't accepted money from anyone since he became homeless in 1991.

On day 109 of his project, Sandridge approached Alex S., a 24-year-old Georgetown University graduate student who was reading on a park bench. Alex accepted the money and later sent Sandridge the following email about what he ended up doing with it:

"Basically, 10 bucks isn't going to change what I can afford, or what some deserving NGO in the area could do if I gave the money to them," he wrote. "So, what I decided to do was spend that money on some cookie supplies, bake some cookies and give them to people we don't too often acknowledge - the guys who hand out the WaPo Express, the people who work at the Metro stations, and the cleaning people and receptionist in my building on K Street."

Sandridge's project ended on Wednesday, and he says people have been asking him which recipient over the course of the past year was his favorite.

"That's like asking a mom who her favorite kid is," he said. "I would sit next to someone and talk to them, and they would open up and tell me the most interesting things about their lives -- the tragedies, the celebrations. As an unemployed person, you walk away so uplifted every day."

A year later, Sandridge says he is in a very different place than when he started. In addition to having two jobs, one as an unpaid executive director of the Urban Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra in D.C., and another as a regional director for the World Wildlife Fund, he says the $3,650 dollars he invested in other people entirely changed his outlook on life.

"I couldn't have bought this experience for a million dollars," he said. "You can't put a price tag on the experience I've had to meet so many amazing people. It's not about the money, it's about people's time, it's about relationships, hearing people's stories. I learned a lot about homelessness in the city, I learned about people struggling with addictions, things I never would have been so fortunate to be invited in to get an inside look at."

Sandridge threw a party on Tuesday night to reunite with all the people he gave money to, to raise money for three local non-profits, and to raise awareness for his next personal project: recruiting other unemployed people to become "kindness investors" for a week and share their stories and experiences the way he did.

"There are currently 15 million unemployed people in the U.S. If every unemployed person volunteered for one day, the net result would be $2.4 billion worth of services -- about twice the economy of Belize or Bhutan," he said. "Now that is seismic."

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