"If you can think it, we get it," said Shirlene Orr, a property officer at the Pechanga Resort & Casino near Temecula, California. Orr runs the lost and found room inside the facility, the largest casino in California. She and co-worker Katharine Milani are in charge of sorting through the more than 20,000 items left behind in hotel rooms and the casino every year.
It's a full-time job, and they will need help soon. Pechanga is in the middle of a $285 million expansion that will add even more hotel rooms, plus pools, a spa and a larger convention space.
"We are running at 100 percent capacity all the time in the hotel now as it is," said Robert Krauss, vice president of public safety. He plans to double the number of staff handing lost and found to four. "We're going to move to a room double that size to give them room to sort things out and make sure we keep everything organized."
It's a huge job. Orr opened up lockers bursting with bags of belongings often collected by maids cleaning the rooms. People leave behind all kinds of things, including cash. Orr once discovered $18,000 left somewhere in the casino, and rather than the owner frantically calling Pechanga, the lost and found team had to track the owner down. "We contacted them, and they came back about a week later," she said.
The strangest discovery was made by Milani. "I was going through a backpack that someone had left, and I actually found the remains of his mother." She had to call the coroner's office, who took possession of the cremains and found the woman's family. "It was a happy ending."
Most people return for their lost items within 48 hours, but after a week, the chances get slim. After 30 days — longer for jewelry — if the property goes unclaimed, Pechanga donates it to a variety of charities. Eyeglasses go to the Lions Club, cellphones go to Cell Phones for Soldiers.
Not everything, however, is given away. In the middle of the lost and found room is small duffel filled with wine from the Temecula area. "We do not donate that," said Orr. "Any alcohol that we get, we have to dump." She added that other items that go unclaimed have to be shredded. "Maybe it's family pictures, things like that, but you don't know how to get it back to them. … It's sad."
Both women said they enjoy the job in part because they have to solve mysteries. Each item that comes in is tagged with the time and location where it was found, and figuring out who the owner is can be a challenge. Milani said it's very rewarding when you reunite someone with an object of great value to them. Sometimes it is the most simple object, like the hand-crocheted water bottle holder she found last week that a woman in the bingo hall left behind. "It was very special, because her niece had made it for her and had passed on, so she was so happy to get it back."
"I know it sounds kind of silly," said Krauss, the head of security, "but when you have that special item that maybe your grandma gave you, or someone who is no longer with you, whether it's a keychain or anything, it's important to us to get that back to them."