Wakefield’s Shane Jones helps places auctioned storage locker items in the right hands
WAKEFIELD — When Shane Jones bought a small storage locker at an auction this past fall, the plan had been to resell the items inside and hopefully make a little bit of a profit.
What he found in that first unit, however, led him down a much different path.
While popularized reality television shows and internet personalities have highlighted how much money can be made from reselling the contents of these storage locker finds — from artwork and comic book collections, to unique memorabilia and vintage rarities — the items Shane came across were much more personal in nature.
Things like family photos, old jewelry boxes and personal documents were scattered throughout the first storage space Shane bid on in Providence, and he quickly realized this was nothing like bargain finds at a yard sale. These weren’t items that people were willingly parting with, but rather priceless memories they couldn’t afford to hang on to.
“There’s a big difference,” Shane said, stressing that they didn’t willingly opt to leave sentimental keepsakes behind. “They didn’t choose to lose their stuff. I chose to buy it, so why not give it back?”
Thankfully, without having to dig too deep into their personal items and invade their privacy, Shane said he and his family were able to find enough information to help track down the original owners. It wasn’t easy, and it took a bit of time, but Shane was eventually able to return the contents of that first storage locker to the owner’s mother.
“She was incredibly grateful,” Shane said, unable to find a better word for the joy and thanks the woman expressed to him after being reunited with items she’s never dreamed of seeing again.
The 16-year-old only spent $20 of his own money to buy that first storage unit, but seeing how much the unexpected, kind gesture had meant to a complete stranger was priceless.
From there, he was hooked, and unlike most others who buy storage lockers at auction, he wasn’t there to get a payday. Instead, Shane embraced his new found hobby from a wildly different angle.
Still using his own money, and working quietly behind the scenes, Shane bought a small storage unit close to home in Narragansett, before moving on to a third Johnston.
The contents of one of those lockers included family heirlooms. Although the original owner of the unit had passed away, Shane was able to contact surviving family members who hadn’t even known the storage locker existed.
The contents of another storage locker belonged to a woman who’d fallen on some really hard times. When Shane reached out in hopes of returning the baby items he had found inside the unit, he had no idea that her baby had passed away, and that those items had been all she had left to remember them by.
To date, Shane has spent more than $100 of his own money to continue funding this passion project, but recent widespread media attention has prompted a small handful of individuals to reach out with donations. These funds, according to Shane, have been warmly welcomed, and are already getting put to good use.
“Time, space and money are the really big things you need,” he explained. “You need the time to get the stuff out, store it, find the person and then find time to meet with the person and return their stuff.”
Space is also a significant factor, he said, because of how soon after the auction the items need to be cleared out. According to Shane, about a quarter of his parent’s basement is full of items from his most recent storage locker purchase, but it’s been fine with his mom, since he’s invading his dad’s half of the basement.
Though the auctioned storage lockers he’s purchased so far haven’t come with the same sky-high price tags you might see on television, the teen says he’s “not made out of money,” so it’s been nice to receive donations from a small handful of individuals.
When he’d initially come to his parents with the idea of buying a storage unit at actuation, they weren’t thrilled with the idea.
“When he was first interested in it, and wanted to buy storage units because there might be some money to be made, we were both struggling with letting him find his own way with that, rather than telling him why we thought that wasn’t a kind or good idea,” his mother, Sarah Markey, said last week while sitting around the family dining room table.
Instead of intervening, however, she and her husband decided to embrace a hands-off approach, and let their teenage son make his own decisions. Taking a step back and not injecting their own opinions on the matter, however, led to a huge proud-parent moment, Sarah said, because their son decided all on his own that he wanted to do his best to return the items to their original owners.
“It was amazing,” she said, “because he bought a storage unit and made the right decision.”
Helping her son return these items can be a pretty time consuming endeavor, and the entire family has spent many hours at this point driving to these storage units, and finding space in the basement to house these items while they track people down.
“It’s hard sometimes — the work involved — but mostly, it’s just really cool,” Sarah said. “I’ve talked to the people that he gave the items back to, and I know how meaningful it is from them.”
And while the items they’ve returned certainly have a lot of meaning and have been joyously accepted, she believes “the idea that someone, a teenager, would do this, was just as meaningful.”
“It’s been fun to watch him experience this, and see how rewarding it’s been for him to do something unexpected and kind for people,” she added.
Though Shane has always had a passion for helping others, according to Sarah, all of his other good deeds before this had been done behind the scenes, and flown under the radar. In recent months, however, the story of a young teenage boy buying up storage lockers and returning the contents to its original owners, has taken on a life of its own.
Funny enough, Shane’s good deeds likely would have never made headlines, had it not been for a joke Sarah had made about how good she’s gotten at tracking people down. When South Kingstown School’s Communication Consultant Carrie Brown asked Sarah what she’d meant by the seemingly strange comment, she was delighted to hear about Shane’s ongoing passion project.
The student spotlight featuring his good deeds reached far beyond the members of the teaching and learning community of South Kingstown, though, going on to get the attention of local media outlets such as the Providence Journal and Channel 10 WJAR.
From there, the feel-good feature caught on like wildfire, gaining the attention of journalists throughout the country, and national outlets like People Magazine and even the Washington Post.
The family has been surprised to see how much attention the story has received so far, and has been inundated with media requests in recent weeks. The requests often come directly to Shane, but extended family members from all across the country, and even his high school principal, have been contacted by members of the press hoping to share the good news.
At times, the past few weeks have felt like an extensive press tour to Shane, all while he’s been busy studying for math tests and rounding out the tail end of his sophomore year.
South Kingstown High School Principal Chip McGair said it’s been exciting to hear from people from all across the country hoping to connect with Shane and his family, and share such a positive story.
“Shane’s goodwill is a fantastic embodiment of our ‘Seven Cs of Success,’” McGair said, “which include creativity, character, communication, collaboration and citizenship.”
“We are delighted to see one of our students doing such a wonderful thing,” he added.
Ever since it hit the news, one of the things Sarah has found most touching are the emails Shane receives, or the comments left on different articles “from people who’ve experienced this.”
“There’s these heartbreaking stories about what people lost,” she said, including everything from baby items, family heirlooms, pictures and furniture.
Those who’ve reached out with kind messages have expressed gratitude, even though their items are gone. They’re just glad that it’s not happening to someone else, Sarah said, and that there is someone out there who’s paying attention to this.
Storage units are such intimate things, she added, commenting on how everyday items like shoes, clothing or books might not seem like much at first glance, but in fact, paint a vivid picture of someone’s life.
One of the things that made it particularly difficult to watch her son start this endeavor, with such wildly different intentions, was having first-hand knowledge of how painful it was to lose a storage unit.
“I had this happen to me when I was growing up,” Sarah said. “We were very poor, and we moved a lot, and we got evicted a lot, so we lost storage units.”
Her son hadn’t known this before ultimately coming to “the right decision,” Sarah said, and she made it a point to share her initial frustrations with her husband. Shane’s passion project continues in earnest, now, and his father, Patrick Jones, said he’s “incredibly proud” of the kind, empathetic and generous young man he is shaping up to be.
Other family members, including Shane’s grandmother and his younger brother, Milo, 8, have also been bursting with pride. Both of them have been excited to see the amount of attention he’s received, and the far reach of this feel-good story.
The family’s biggest hope, however, is that this story inspires others to go out of their way and do something kind and unexpected for a complete stranger — in their own unique way.