For Christmas, Cliff Hunter got an invaluable gift - a reminder that there are generous, good-hearted people in the world.

He just wishes he knew the name of one of them in particular, so he could offer thanks.

The inspiring story began on SEPTA's Route 17 bus shortly after 9 a.m. Dec. 18.

Hunter, 79, a single retired social-services worker, had boarded at 20th and Wharton Streets, near his South Philadelphia home, bound for Center City to do several errands. He had placed a Christmas package - a sweater - ready to be mailed to a sister in Florida in the parcel bin at the front of the bus. Then he made his way to a seat farther back.

His stop at 20th and Locust Street came up way faster than Hunter had expected.

"I dashed to the front and dashed off the bus - and left my package behind," he recalled Thursday. "I walked about half a block, and suddenly realized it was gone. The bus was gone, too."

Hunter was crestfallen. Living on Social Security, he did not have much money for gifts. He had found the brown wool cardigan discarded along with other items on a city sidewalk, and "carefully, for hours," scraped dried paint from it "and got it looking nice."

He thought it perfect for his sister Sharon Vieland, who is 71, lives just north of Tampa, Fla., and "always gets cold."

"I figured it would be a nice present," Hunter said, one that he dreaded would wind up with whoever found it on the bus or "whomever it fit."

Hunter called SEPTA three times over the next few days, to learn no one had turned in the package.

So he sent a Christmas card to his sister in which he explained he had lost her present and apologized.

Imagine his surprise when Vieland called him Christmas morning and said: "I'm going to be so warm."

When Hunter asked her what she was talking about, Vieland said: "The gift you sent."

His reply, according to his sister: "You got that?"

Indeed she had. Whoever found Hunter's package on the Route 17 bus had mailed it as addressed - and paid more than $8 in postage to do so.

"Somebody was really, really in the Christmas spirit to send it," Hunter said. "They're a generous, warm, caring person."

He knew of no other way to try to get word to that person about his gratitude than to call The Inquirer, which he did Thursday afternoon.

Reached at her home in Shady Hills, Vieland was equally grateful.

"It's a nice, wool, heavy sweater," she said. "It was so nice to have someone be that considerate and pay over $8 in postage to get that to me.

"I wish there was more goodness in the world. We'd have a whole lot better world."

As for the card from her brother apologizing for losing her present?

"I haven't gotten that," Vieland said with a laugh.

dmastrull@phillynews.com

215-854-2466 @dmastrull