IT'S one of those stories that make you reflect on the power of online fundraising and marvel at the kindness of strangers.

Billy Ray Harris was just another homeless man in Kansas City. His days were spent in a local square, his nights beneath a bridge. He got by, if that's the right word, by begging for change from passersby. One day recently, a young woman dropped some coins into his cup. What neither of them noticed was that she had accidentally also dropped in her diamond engagement ring. Because of a rash on her finger, she had been keeping the ring in her purse.

Billy Ray spotted the ring afterwards, of course, and at first he was tempted to pawn it. A little devil on his shoulder, as he put it, urged him to keep the money. But his better instincts won out, and when the woman, Sarah Darling, returned the next day and asked if he had something precious belonging to her, he reached into his pocket and returned the ring.

Loading article content

Darling and her fiance, Bill Krejci, deciding to repay Billy Ray's honesty, set up a fundraising page on the Give Forward website with the aim of raising $1000.

They never knew what they were starting. Once the story had been picked up by local TV, it took on a life of its own, and so did the fundraising page. The donations flooded in. As of yesterday lunchtime, the sum raised was $153,348, just over £100,000. The donations – from America, Europe (including Britain) and Asia –numbered 6487. And there are still 79 days left of the 90-day-long campaign. A local homeless charity says the money could do so much more when given to an agency but acknowledges that people feel connected to Billy Ray. Bill Krejci, who is stupefied by the success of what began as a simple plan to give Billy Ray a $1000 reward, met him last week, and discovered that their fathers both fought in Vietnam.

As for Billy Ray, he could now buy a three-bedroom house in Kansas City, though he may end up moving back to Texas, where he has family. He is baffled that so much money has been raised. "I don't deserve it," he says.

In the meantime, the connection grows: in the time it took me to type these 400 words, another few hundred dollars had come in.