SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
There's a Purple Heart in the window of the A-Z Outlet pawnshop in Holland, Michigan, right between a silver necklace and an inexpensive watch. Bryan VandenBosch says a young man walked into his shop just before Thanksgiving to pawn a medal that the U.S. government awards to soldiers who have been wounded or killed in action. He says that he doesn't know why the young man needed or wanted to pawn his medal. He did say a couple of things, like he won two of these in Afghanistan, but I didn't ask doing what or how? It's not for me to ask, Mr. VandenBosch told us. He also won't say how much he paid him for the Purple Heart. I don't talk about that, he says. He needed a little to get by, so I helped him. Bryan VandenBosch says he will not sell that Purple Heart. He put the medal in his window to honor men and women in the military. People in Holland, Michigan noticed; they started calling. They didn't want to buy it, says Mr. VandenBosch. They just wanted to help the guy. I said don't worry; I'm not selling it to anyone.
Now, there's much that's unknown in this story. What would lead a man to pawn a Purple Heart? Was he down on his luck? Sickened by war? Do we even really know that the Purple Heart was his or something that he inherited, found, or even filched? But Bryan VandenBosch knows that pawn shops are lenders of the last resort. He says that people come in to pawn things they have loved because they're short of cash and need to see a doctor, buy shoes or pay for a funeral.
There is a story behind each item in his store: the hocked wedding ring or set of earrings; the toy once held by a child who's now gone away; or the watch inscribed, Love forever, that's sold when love or money have run out. People who come in here aren't having a good day, he says. They're often having problems and are a little embarrassed. I don't add to that.
The story of the Purple Heart in the pawnshop window reminds us that to truly help people, you don't need to do worthy things like go to Bangladesh or set up 501-3C corporation. Look at your neighbors, says Bryan VandenBosch. Look at people all around you. You've got friends, I'll bet, who can use some help paying for food or gas to get to their job. If you really want to help people, you don't have to look very far.
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