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Image: Salvation Army bell-ringer
Tim Boyle  /  Getty Images
'Tis the season to give generously at those iconic Salvation Army red kettles — and some donors choose to do so in creative ways.
TODAY contributor
updated 12/7/2011 4:57:44 PM ET 2011-12-07T21:57:44

Some people drop a few dollars into The Salvation Army’s iconic red kettles at this time of year. Others stop and write checks. But every year, other donors emerge and discreetly share diamond rings, real silver and rare gold coins — and many choose to do so anonymously.

Consider the donations that have been surfacing around the country during this year’s Salvation Army Red Kettle Campaign:

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  • A gold coin from an anonymous donor in Bloomington, Ill., who’s been stealthily donating such coins for about 20 years now.
  • Five gold South African Krugerrands coins in Frederick, Md. (The coins were gifts from the owner of a local coin exchange, who purchased them back from The Salvation Army for $9,000.)
  • A diamond ring wrapped in a dollar bill from an anonymous donor in Spokane, Wash. The ring is valued at $5,000.
  • Also in Spokane, a silver coin wrapped inside a note that read: “I’ve saved this ounce of silver for twenty years, I’m unemployed for 13 months, my house is in foreclosure, I’m filing for bankruptcy and at 61 my retirement is shot but I still know there are families in worse shape.” (The coin’s estimated value is $30. Salvation Army officials stressed how much they cherish both the donation and its message.)

“It’s a true Christmas spirit when you get the coins just because somebody cares enough to really make a sacrifice to donate,” Steve Schroeder, development director for The Salvation Army in Bloomington, told WEEK-TV. The gold coin donated in Bloomington is up for bid in an online auction that will remain open through Friday. As of this writing, the bidding was up to $625. (To participate in the auction, click here.)

Story: Salvation Army auctions off gold coin

Now in its 120th year, The Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign got its start on the wharf in San Francisco in 1891. The campaign relies on more than 25,000 bell-ringers to gather donations from holiday shoppers around the country. Last year the campaign raised more than $142 million, and the money was used to help people in need with toys, food, clothing and other basic necessities.

Image: Donor dropping money into a Salvation Army red kettle
Tim Boyle  /  Getty Images
Sometimes the donations dropped discreetly into The Salvation Army's red kettles are worth thousands of dollars.

Story: Gold Krugerrands dropped into Salvation Army kettles

This holiday season, donating at a red kettle became easier than ever — even for people unarmed with any cash or valuable heirlooms. Last month The Salvation Army announced that bell-ringers would start accepting credit-card donations via on-site smartphones equipped with credit-card readers.

Gay groups boycott Salvation Army red kettle drive

Maj. George Hood, The Salvation Army’s national community relations and development secretary, said the shift toward new technologies makes sense

“This year, we plan to make donating to The Salvation Army as easy as possible for our donors," Hood said.

Need a Coffey break? Friend TODAY.com writer Laura T. Coffey on Facebook, follow her on Twitter  or read more of her stories at LauraTCoffey.com.

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Video: Mystery gold coins bring holiday cheer

  1. Transcript of: Mystery gold coins bring holiday cheer

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Well, you could call this a MAKING A DIFFERENCE report tonight. We just don't know who to nominate. Somebody is dropping some very valuable coins in those red Salvation Army kettles this time of year, helping a lot of people and making for a kind of charity mystery. NBC 's Kerry Sanders has our report from Fort Myers , Florida .

    KERRY SANDERS reporting: The sounds of the holidays, but in southwest Florida it's also the soundtrack to a mystery. For the seventh year running, someone has quietly slipped this

    into the Salvation Army's collection pot: a 1913 double eagle Saint-Gaudens $20 gold coin . Value today, $ 1800 . Vernon Robinson was on duty when someone dropped the coin into his kettle.

    Mr. VERNON ROBINSON: I never seen nothing like that in my life, so it made me feel real good.

    SANDERS: As in years past, the coin came with a handwritten note, "In loving memory of Mimi ." At the Salvation Army sorting center, volunteers are on the lookout for perhaps another gold coin .

    Unidentified Woman: I'll definitely have my eyes peeled.

    SANDERS: Could be another?

    Woman: We don't know. Could be somebody else wanting to donate.

    SANDERS: The Salvation Army is the second-largest charity in the United States , founded by Minister William Booth in London in the 1850s . In the last three decades, gold and silver coins have turned up during the holidays in those red kettles in at least 10 states, including Texas , Illinois , Colorado and here in Florida .

    Mr. TOM LOUDEN (Salvation Army Area Commander): We live in a fast-food world today where everything seems to be instant. 'Let me make my donation online.' 'Do you take credit cards?' But this person has taken the time to find this coin every year.

    SANDERS: The Salvation Army , a Christian organization, says there are two

    messages that resonate: that note and what's inscribed on the coin, "In God we trust." Kerry Sanders , NBC News, Fort Myers , Florida .

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