FLAGSTAFF, AZ - Lt. Michael O'Brien of the Salvation Army's Flagstaff post was surprised to find a gold coin in one of his bell ringers' kettles.
A quick assessment of the coin revealed a value better than $200.
One heck of an anonymous donation.
"While current weather conditions are making giving more difficult, there is a silver lining," O'Brien said. "Or, maybe more of a golden lining."
O'Brien said the coin was dropped Dec. 2 into the Sam's Club kettle on Butler Avenue. The coin, a $5, 1/10-ounce Golden American Eagle, was a gratifying find, O'Brien said. Similar coins for sale online go for $200 to $300, and every dollar counts during tough economic times.
After picking up the kettles that day, O'Brien emptied them and began separating the cash from the coin, and a little package was included in the cash.
"You could feel the excitement across the entire room," O'Brien said.
The Salvation Army's kettle season has been in full swing across the nation since Thanksgiving. Locally, the kettle donations help the Salvation Army run a number of programs in Flagstaff and northern Arizona, including rental and utility assistance, child and adult programs, food boxes and emergency disaster services.
O'Brien said he hopes this year's effort raises about $45,000.
"It essentially keeps the Salvation Army running throughout the year," O'Brien said.
The recent storms have put a damper on collections this year, O'Brien added. Donations are about $2,000 behind the same point last year. The donation period lasts until Christmas Eve just before midnight.
Bell Ringer Morgana Campbell was tending the kettle that netted the golden gift Dec. 2.
"I didn't see," she said of the anonymous giver.
She added, laughing, given the price of gold nowadays, that maybe the gift was a mistake. In the wake of the gift, her rotation has been bumped up from twice to five times a week at the Sam's Club store.
"It's been nippy in the mornings, but the interaction with the people has been fun, especially watching the babies put it in," she said.
O'Brien added that the same location at Sam's Club turned up a donation of six $100 bills, too.
Dropping valuable gold coins into Salvation Army kettles is not a new phenomenon. Yearly, the Salvation Army reports similar occurrences across the country.
Once, in Kirksville, Mo., a kettle was emptied to reveal a gold coin minted 20 years before the Civil War. In Chicago alone in 2004, bell ringers took in at least 10 gold coins in one holiday season. Salvation Army kettles in Fort Myers, Fla., regularly receive gold coins in memory of someone named Mimi.
In 2007, somebody dropped a 1-ounce American Eagle gold coin into a kettle in Prescott.
All the donors are anonymous, and apparently the only person who knows who did the good deed is the person who did it.
O'Brien said that volunteers to help staff the 13 kettle locations around Flagstaff are always needed. First priority is given to people who need an income, which is provided by the Salvation Army -- low-income residents, people on Social Security, the disabled and unemployed.
To the anonymous giver, O'Brien said, "Thank you so much. I hope that God blesses them this Christmas."