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Anonymous groups drop 'hidden cash' around St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — Austin Sgro, 24 and out of work, was down to his last $10 when he saw the tweet about hidden cash.

He followed clues to the bicycle path on the Sunshine Skyway and searched for two hours until he found it in a palm tree — an envelope with a $100 bill inside.

For weeks, these envelopes have been stashed throughout the city, a local version of a national "hidden cash" movement meant to help recipients while also encouraging them to pay the kindness forward.

"You kept diapers on my son for the week," Sgro told the anonymous donor via Twitter. "You put food in my mouth. You put a bill at rest."

The concept started in San Francisco in May when a real estate tycoon began hiding cash throughout the city and encouraging people to find it with clues posted to Twitter. From there it spread to cities like Vancouver, Indianapolis and Chicago.

It popped up in St. Petersburg last month — and quickly sparked a copycat.

The first group, which hides $100 bills, goes by the name "Hidden Cash St. Pete" and uses the Twitter handle @hiddencashstpet — no last "e." Contacted via Twitter, members refused to disclose their identities, saying only they are entrepreneurs between the ages of 33 and 50.

The second group uses a similar name and Twitter account: "Hidden Cash in St. Pete" and @hiddencashstpt. This group also offers clues via Twitter, but for $10 prizes. A man representing the group would not provide his name and asked to be identified only as "a 48-year-old commercial real estate investor."

Though seemingly united in purpose, the groups seem to have more ill will than good karma for the other.

"Hidden Cash St. Pete" says "Hidden Cash in St. Pete" copied their Twitter background, creating confusion. The first group also worried that the second group was scamming people by encouraging others to hide cash so they could retrieve it.

The second group's representative said that wasn't the case at all. The confusion began, he said, when he let his teenage son set up the Twitter profile and the boy copied several settings from the other account. They also did not encourage followers to drop cash, he said, but did repost a tweet from a man who was trying to donate hidden cash himself and was seeking support.

"We didn't know he was going to put our name on it and make it look like he was a part of us or we were a part of him," the representative said. "That we did object to."

Despite the secrecy, people in search of free cash don't seem to mind. The accounts have more than 2,000 followers combined.

• • •

The concept is simple.

"Regardless of how much or how little you have, you can improve the quality of someone else's day by taking notice and showing you care," a representative from "Hidden Cash St. Pete" said via email.

It could be buying a cup of coffee for the person behind you, donating to charity or volunteering.

While Sgro needed the money, he said he also took time to buy a meal for an amputee he saw waiting outside a WaWa. Then he drove the man nearly 30 blocks so he wouldn't have to travel the distance on crutches.

The latest drop was Tuesday.

As a clue, "Hidden Cash St. Pete" posted a picture of the outside of Al Lang Stadium in downtown about 2 p.m.

Bob Grimm, 45, who sells candles for a living, arrived soon after to start his search.

He looked all around the stadium's metal gate, scanned the roof, climbed the stairs and dug around in the bushes.

"I've been on quite a few of the hunts," Grimm said. "I've been quite close several times."

While he has never walked away with the $100 bill, he has found the second group's $10 drops several times, the group's representative said.

On Tuesday, he scored. The envelope was tucked behind a poster near the ticket window.

Kayla Anders, who was working at a soccer camp at Eckerd College, arrived a few minutes too late.

"I think it's really great," she said. "You can give back to St. Pete, even if you don't have much to give back."

Grimm used some of the cash to buy dog and cat food, which he donated to Pet Pal Animal Shelter a few hours later.

He posted a picture of his donation on Twitter.

Times staff writer Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Claire Wiseman can be reached at cwiseman@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8804. Follow her on Twitter @clairelwiseman.

Anonymous groups drop 'hidden cash' around St. Petersburg 06/17/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 17, 2014 10:49pm]
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