BY GAIL EISENBERG
Stuart Herman, 91, collects curbside nearly every morning. The retired market research expert scours Upper East Side streets for found change to donate to charity. How do I know this? We met going for the same nickel on Madison Avenue. I sat down with the Englewood, New Jersey, native to discuss his unusual foraging.
My first question is “why?”I feel very fortunate to have survived impossible situations. I’m a WW II veteran. I’d say 50 percent of my class didn’t come back. Part of the blessing I’ve been given is I survived. I want to look at what I have, not what I want. When I close my eyes, I want to know I left something behind that’s meaningful. But I’m not just a guy who picks up money off the street. If I find a tool, let’s say, I’ll give it to a carpenter. I want it to be of use to someone else. Also, I came from a family that didn’t waste. I learned from my father — how he functioned and treated people. I truly believe in do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Where does the money go?I give it to my brother, who works with indigent people in Hackensack, New Jersey. I feel we have a moral obligation to take care of those who are more in need than ourselves.
Why not just write a check?It’s easy to write a check. It really is. I like making use of something that others bypass and having it do some good. As soon as I see that money, I don’t own it. I believe every penny I pick up will find 99 more cents and turn into green.
About how much to do you donate annually?I’ve had a high of $199 in found money and a low of less than $50. It’s gotten very hard to find change. Today it’s much more difficult. There are no more public telephones, and people use plastic for parking meters and MetroCards for buses. I have some luck at Costco checkout counters. And I recently found $20 walking my granddaughter’s dog.
Where do you keep the money?I put my findings in little boxes I have all around, little “pushkas” the charities use. When they fill up, I roll the coins, and then store them in a plastic bag until the amount is significant to make it worthwhile to take to the bank or give to my brother, whichever is easier at the time.
When did you start walking?I used to run all over the city, eight-10 miles a day, and I also ran marathons. I placed 10th in my age group in the BolderBOULDER race in Colorado. Then in 1995, a limousine hit me outside of my building. I had to have stitches in my head, and get titanium knees. Hospital for Special Surgery did such a great job, I recovered within three weeks of having my first knee done, and I started walking.
How often do you walk?I read the obituaries every morning. If my name’s not there, I’m good. I go rain or shine, seven days a week. I’m what you call a consistent exerciser. If you exercise and eat right, you have the greatest chance of going and going until The Guy comes and says it’s your time to leave.
Do you have a routine?I get up by about 5, head to the gym, and then go walking. Getting out by 7 is late. I wear New Balance sneakers, tube socks, shorts — with pockets for my findings — and a T-shirt. I put a light jacket on to please the doorman. I start on Park Avenue and 75th Street, walk over to Madison, go downtown to 54th Street, then back uptown on Park. Unless I go buy bagels. In that case, I walk up by the 92nd Street Y on Lexington.
What’s your technique? Is there anything you won’t do to score the coin?I walk as close to the curb as possible. I stop cars for a penny, and I’ll push a coin out of questionable liquid with my foot and wash it later. It’s a contest against time—I have a few hours in the morning and I want to see what I can get in the bank.
Tell me about some of the characters you’ve met along the way.A woman saw me picking up a penny, and she handed her young son a dollar to give to me. I told her I didn’t need it, but she insisted – “take it, take it.” I didn’t. Also, a man once fought with me saying he saw the penny first. He was a little “off.” I told him he could have the penny in addition to what I’d found earlier.
And me, right? I let you keep the nickel after you told me what you were going to do with it. That’s honorable. I’m charitable, but I deposit my take in an interest-accruing savings account so I make money on found money. I also used to match my day’s findings. Anyway ... What about near-misses — foreign coins, slugs, shiny objects?I pick up pieces of metal and deposit them in the trash. This way I help to clear the street. I keep the foreign coins. It doesn’t matter. I’m currently working on an idea for how to put that money to use rather than have it sit in a jar.
Anything you’d like to add?Giving back has been passed along to my granddaughter, who teaches horseback riding to mentally challenged people, and my grandson, who does yoga therapy. In fact, he just found four $100 bills at an animal reserve in Tennessee. The first thing he said was, “Who am I going to give this to?”