16-Year-Old Boy Buys Repossessed Storage Units to Help Owners Recover Their Family Heirlooms

"These people didn't choose to give me this stuff. They didn't have a choice. It's almost like a duty to give it back," said Shane Jones

Storage Unit Reunion
Shane Jones. Photo: Sarah markey

A Rhode Island teen is being praised for his good deeds after he started buying repossessed storage units to help previous owners recover their belongings.

Shane Jones told The Washington Post that his decision to buy the storage units initially started out as a way for him to make some extra cash over the summer.

It wasn't long before the Wakefield teen realized that he shouldn't profit from the items in the units and that he had to find a way to return them to the former owners and their families.

So that's exactly what he's done. Since embarking on the project last summer, Shane has helped reunite three families with the contents inside their former storage units, according to the outlet.

"I started out thinking that bidding at a storage auction was kind of like a yard sale, but now I know that's not true," Shane, 16, told the Post. "These people didn't choose to give me this stuff. They didn't have a choice. It's almost like a duty to give it back."

Storage Unit Reunion
Shane Jones. Sarah markey

Shane first came up with the idea of buying repossessed storage units last summer after finding a YouTube video that explained the process, the Post reported.

According to the outlet, storage units can be put up for auction after the renters stop paying their monthly fees. The videos described the process of bidding online without seeing the contents in the unit and how it could eventually help a person make money.

"It seemed like something fun to do. I had some money I'd saved from working in a used bookstore," Shane explained to the Post, adding that he often goes to yard sales in hopes of collecting bottles, coins, and other hidden items of value.

In August of last year, Shane found a storage unit auction in Providence near his home and decided to put in a bid of $100, according to the Post.

To his surprise, the teen won — but when he went to visit the unit, Shane told the outlet he began to feel sad as he sifted through the household goods, stuffed animals, personal mementos, and other documents.

"I realized then that this wasn't the same as getting stuff at a yard sale," he recalled to the Post. "This guy was in prison, and his storage unit was auctioned off because he couldn't afford to pay for it. This was probably everything he had left."

Wanting to do something, Shane turned to his parents, Patrick Jones and Sarah Markey, who offered to help him find the original owner's mother, the Post reported.

The trio eventually located the woman at a retirement home in Providence and then took a trip to return the storage unit's contents, according to the outlet.

"I called her up and offered to give her everything," Shane explained to the Post, noting that the woman was thrilled to be reunited with her son's belongings.

Her reaction was enough to spark Shane's interest and inspire him to keep going. His next storage unit auctions came in October 2020 and January 2021, each for a winning bid of $50, according to the Post.

The October unit contained an address book, which Shane said he used to help him find the original owners' family.

Storage Unit Reunion
Items inside the storage unit. Sarah markey

"The couple who rented the locker had passed away, but there was a phone number for their brother-in-law, and he was happy to come out and get everything," Shane told the Post. "He said there were a lot of family heirlooms that could have been lost."

As for the January unit, Shane was easily able to find the owner's identity because her name was written on several items in the unit, according to the outlet.

When he finally connected with the woman, Shane told the Post that he learned she was unable to pay for the unit after losing her job and that she also lost a child to sudden infant death syndrome three years earlier.

"All of her baby items and all of her childhood photos were in the storage locker," Shane shared with the outlet.

Since the woman lived in Connecticut, Shane arranged for her to pick them up at his home, the Post reported. Once she arrived and saw the items waiting for her on his front porch, Shane said the woman "started to cry."

"[She] said everything she had to remind her of her baby was in that locker, and she just didn't have the finances to keep up with the payments," he recalled to the Post.

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Since taking on the storage unit project, word has spread about Shane's acts of kindness.

South Kingstown School District, where Shane is enrolled as a sophomore in high school, credited the teen for his "thoughtful act of compassion and kindness" in a post on Facebook.

"I couldn't be more proud of this kid, for going the extra step, for people he doesn't know," his mom added in a statement, according to the school's post. "It is actually a lot of work that he puts into this effort."

"And I think that part of what he has learned by meeting people who he gifted with this kindness is that putting good into the world is one of the most gratifying things that he can do," she continued.

Markey, 40, also told the Post that her son has been caught off guard by the attention of his kind acts but hopes that his story will inspire others to do good in their communities.

"Kindness inspires kindness. Buying the contents of a storage unit and giving them back is a creative way to pay it forward," said Markey. "Shane hopes that somebody else will get the idea to do the same thing in their own town."

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