Sometimes a trip to a recycling center can do more than save the environment. Sometimes it can restore faith in humanity.
About a month ago, Gainesville resident Angel Jarrard was dropping off some recyclables at the Sardis Road compactor site when the unthinkable happened.
"The minute that I threw a container in the bin, I felt my (wedding) ring fly off my finger," Jarrard said.
"My husband was here with me. I told him my ring flew off. We tried seeing if we could get inside the recycling bin. We had the flashlight and we looked all around, but we couldn't find it."
The next day, she contacted the Hall County Recycling Center to see about getting into the giant container.
"I talked to the supervisor and he told me that when they picked up the container, he would let me know," Jarrard said.
True to his word, the supervisor called her.
"They picked it up and actually dumped it out in the parking lot at the (main) recycling center, and we dug through all of the glass," Jarrard said.
Although she was happy to get the call, she says she lost hope upon arriving at the facility.
"As soon as they dumped the container in the parking lot, I thought, ‘We're never going to find my ring.' It was literally like looking for a needle in a hay stack," Jarrard said.
"I thought, ‘Well, I've already got all of these people out here, so we'll dig.' But I had already lost hope. It was myself, my best friend, my dad and my husband's mom. Some of the (center's workers) even helped us look."
The group searched through the pile for about three hours in the cold and rain. But as Jarrard predicted, they didn't find the ring.
"I thought it was lost forever," Jarrard said. "I mean, who would return something like that if they found it?"
Unbeknownst to Jarrard, the ring had already been found by Elaine Key, who visited the Sardis site shortly after the Jarrards had given up their first search that Sunday.
"I was throwing glass in and I just looked down at the ground I thought, ‘Gosh, there's a ring down there. I wonder if it's real?'" Key recalled.
"It was really cold that day, so I picked it up and put it on my finger to take it home to clean up and see if it was real or not."
After removing the dirt that had collected on the ring, Key realized that it was more than a pretty piece of costume jewelry.
"I thought, ‘Oh yeah. This is real.' It had 14-carat (engraved) on the inside and it had beautiful diamonds," Key said.
"I said, ‘Oh somebody is going to be so sick that they lost this.'"
Instead of celebrating her good luck of finding such a lovely item, Key could only think about the original owner's misfortune.
"I know that whoever it belonged to had to be very upset, because I would've been very upset," Key said.
"So I decided to put up a sign saying that I'd found a lady's ring, and I put my cell phone number on it."
Key posted her sign on the bulletin board near the recycling bins, but she had just missed Jarrard, who had been by for one more look.
About a week later, Key returned to the compactor site to drop off more recycling and noticed that her sign had been removed. Instead of shrugging it off and evoking the playground logic of finder's keepers, losers weepers, she decided to make another sign.
"I thought, ‘I can't give up. I just can't give up,'" Key said.
"I went home, made another sign and brought it back up here. I just knew I had to keep trying to find her, something in my heart wouldn't let me give up."
Her persistence paid off.
"About a week later, I got a call and she described the ring perfectly," Key said.
Jarrard discovered that Key had found the ring after one of her friends on the social networking website Facebook, messaged her to tell her about Key's sign at the recycling site.
"I flew over to the site, grabbed the sign and called her," Jarrard remembers. "I still can't believe it. It's like a movie. When I called her, I couldn't believe that someone would not only find it, but to be nice enough to hang on to it and go through the trouble to post the signs — twice.
"I had thought about posting my own sign saying I had lost the ring, but then I thought, ‘Why go through the trouble. If somebody finds it, they're going to keep it.'"
Key's random act of kindness has helped Jarrard think more favorably about the motivation of strangers.
"It opens your eyes a little bit. I think we get so negative in the world thinking that everyone is in it for themselves," Jarrard said.
"When I posted on Facebook that this nice lady found my ring, everyone that responded said, ‘Wow. There are still nice people, still trustworthy people, in this world.'"
Though locating the ring's owner took a little work, Key says it was worth it.
"Seeing the smile on her face when I gave it to her — we were both crying," she said.
Although you can't put a price tag on being able to reunite someone with a prized possession and help restore their faith in humanity, Key says there is one thing that Jarrard can do to pay her back.
"Just pay it forward, do something nice for someone else."