Talking for the first time publicly about why he bought $600 worth of groceries for a group of strangers at a Concord store recently, Michael Simas said his reason for doing it was simple.
"Really, I was just trying to take a lousy day and make it a good day," Simas said Monday, in an exclusive interview with this newspaper. And, he said, "It worked."
Simas, 33, known by the people touched by his generosity as the "Mystery Man" of Concord, acknowledged that he loves to give. In this case, though, what he gave away was a big chunk of money from his final paycheck after being laid off.
"People," he said, "might think it's madness."
"His is a beautiful giving soul," said Rena Landaker, of Benicia, a friend of Simas' who tipped this newspaper to his identity.
"Everything he does, he does for others, and he never wants recognition. Well, I knew he might be mad at me, but I figured it was time."
It was around 4 p.m. on July 8 when Simas walked into the Grocery Outlet on Willow Pass Road and asked a store manager if it would OK for him to stand near the aisles and buy groceries for customers. Convinced Simas was sincere, the manager allowed it. In all, he spent about $600, contributing to the store's food drive along the way.
"I definitely don't let money dictate what I do," he said. "I think that what's most important is to be able to give to your community, and you know, to see the look on some of the faces of the customers when I did it, you can't buy that feeling with all of the money in the world."
That alone may have warranted attention. But, as Landaker said, "there's so much more to this."
Simas said the story really begins with his father's decision to send the wayward teen from his childhood home in Concord to Portland, Oregon, in 1997.
Simas said he was "getting into trouble, doing things you shouldn't be doing, going down the wrong path.
In Oregon, his family sent him to a faith-based camp that changed his outlook. He spent 10 years there, eventually becoming a counselor for at-risk children. He also pursued a career in filmmaking, one he says "is still developing."
Three years ago, he returned to the Bay Area to care for his father, who had became ill. He took a variety of jobs, the most recent one in the sales department for a startup company in Concord.
But funding problems for the company eliminated his job. His final paycheck arrived a couple days before his trip to the grocer. He paid bills with some of it. The rest, he gave away in an attempt to feel better about the turn of events in his life.
"To go through the experience at the store, it made me realize that I've got air in my lungs, I've got spring in my legs," he said. "I can go out and look and find a job. Others can't. So I have it great."
Simas, who reluctantly agreed to be interviewed about his generosity, lives with roommates not far from the market. He said he has opportunities for a new job. He also wants to establish a nonprofit to provide off-campus college housing -- called CHANCE -- College Housing and New Creative Experience -- that and would be similar to a dormitory, at a discount.
"We'll look at what we can do to make a difference there, and see what happens," he said. "Hopefully."
Though the giving that garnered him all the attention was at the grocery store, he was hit with the same spirit earlier in the day.
As he was en route to buying groceries, Simas stopped at a Taco Bell. He said the cashier's happy spirit prompted him to tip her $100.
"To see the smile on her face," Simas said, "That really cheered me up."
Contact Rick Hurd at 925-945-4789 and follow him at Twitter.com/3rderh.