Free money on the streets of Portland

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Last week as the Monument Square Farmer’s Market was in full swing, something miraculous was happening just beyond the sea of cherry tomatoes. A merchant was handing out cash. Cold hard cash in the form of two dollar bills. Though I was hungry and it was hot, this was no mirage.

Brad McCurtain, owner of Others! coffee bar had packets of $10 in rare two dollar bills stashed in his shirt pocket.

Handing one to me as I stopped to try his iced tea, he said “you can do so much with 10 dollars. I am challenging people to be creative.”

After a quick calculation I wondered if he was mad. A tenner in Portland can only go so far. Lunch, in the form of a wrap or salad (minus iced coffee) easily soars over $9. Surely this man was misinformed. And further more, why the stunt?

To celebrate 10 years in Portland Others! is literally paying it forward. For a week and a half the owner has been handing out a fistful of green with a message and a call to action: “Dear Friend, Would you do a favor for us? Here is ten dollars. You can do anything you’d like with the funds. We hope you’ll use this small gift to try to make a difference in the lives of others.”

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The thoughtful McCurtain dreamed up the idea to highlight the country’s massive wealth gap. “More than 2 billion of our neighbors live on $2 a day. You are holding in your hand almost a full week’s income for more than a quarter of the world’s population,” said the letter with attached cash.

“How can you make a difference with 2 dollars?” he is asking the public.

You could pay a strangers bus fare, buy a supermarket gift card and give it to someone who really needs it. Treat a disadvantaged child to an ice cream. Place some flowers on a veteran’s grave, are all ideas in his letter.

This proprietor could surely do something more contemporary to celebrate 10 years in business. Throw a big party, invite a food truck, hire a band or circus performers to toast his fortune. Instead he seeks to subtly make a difference two dollars at a time.

McCurtain has bought up all the $2 at Key Bank and Bank of America in Monument Square, which he says amounts to $600. “Once these two dollar bills are gone, I am going back for more as long as it’s apparent that people are picking up the challenge and finding creative ways to do good by having only a very few dollars with which to work.”

He encourages people to do more than toss a Jefferson into a panhandler’s cup.

“A lot of people really don’t understand how you can impact the life of a senior living alone simply with a visit and a gift of nothing more than the daily newspaper or a small bouquet of freshly picked flowers,” he said. (If you decide to go this route, the Bangor Daily News is only $1.25)

“It’s the visit that counts, of course, but that newspaper or those flowers will live on and remind the person of your visit, long after you have left. You literally can make a person’s week,” he said.

McCurtain should run for mayor (write-in candidate alert!). He hopes to hand out more than $1,000. “If it gets some traction, I’d definitely consider keeping it going from there.”

Stop into his fair trade cafe, 15 Monument Square to start changing the world. Then post your good deed on his Facebook page. As I contemplate what to do with the five twos piled on my desk, I realize this is a real invitation. What would you do?

 

Kathleen Pierce

About Kathleen Pierce

A lifelong journalist with a deep curiosity for what's next. Interested in food, culture, trends and the thrill of a good scoop. BDN features reporter based in Portland since 2013.