THE INSTANT THAT HIGH SCHOOL junior Tequesta Allen opened the wallet she'd found in a West Palm Beach, Fla., street, she knew her dream had come true. "I thought, 'I'm getting me a car,' " she says.

She still might be getting that car—but not with the $1,100 in the billfold. Because as soon as she discovered the name of the owner, she couldn't help but sympathize. Says Allen, 16: "I knew I couldn't keep it."

The youngest of four children, Allen was being driven to the hairdresser by her father, meat-market manager Lovell Allen, 39, on Oct. 23, when they spotted the wallet on the pavement. Tequesta tried to phone its owner, West Palm Beach police officer Frank DiStefano, 26, from the salon, but he has an unlisted number. So she tried his bank, since the name was on a withdrawal receipt with the cash. "I was shocked," says DiStefano, who had taken out the money for a down payment on a townhouse. "I was surprised anybody would return it, much less a teenager."

Fortunately for Tequesta, virtue hasn't been her only reward. DiStefano gave her $20 as thanks, and when a local newspaper carried a story about what she had done, money started pouring in. "You've restored my faith in humanity," wrote one donor. To date, Allen has received $1,910, including a $500 check from a local car dealer.

Of course, if any of these people had known Tequesta, they wouldn't have been so surprised that she has character. A student at Lake Worth Community High, she recently gave up her $5.50-an-hour job at Kentucky Fried Chicken to concentrate on improving her grades so she could go to college.

"She's very, very responsible," says Tequesta's mother, Martha, 38, an AIDS case worker, who notes that her daughter does community service work at Huggins Child Care Center in Lake Worth. "We were just saying how blessed we are to have her."