As harried shoppers were filing in and out of a Joplin, Mo., Walmart on Black Friday, at least one shopper stopped long enough to deliver a major surprise to the two Salvation Army kettle bell ringers standing guard outside.
As they counted their totals on Friday night, Salvation Army officials discovered that wrapped inside dollar bills were five checks of $10,000 each, adding up to a $50,000 donation for the local Joplin chapter.
"For us to have that kind of a bonus, a surprise sort of thing that you always hope for but can never count on is really exciting," said Lt. Jamie Curry of the Salvation Army. "It puts us that much closer to reaching our goal and putting on more services for the community."
The person or persons behind the $50,000 donation remain anonymous, as she or he (or they) has been for the past decade. Salvation Army officials have nicknamed the anonymous donor(s) "Secret Santa" for the tradition of donating large sums in the kettle each Christmas season.
"It's never the same person and our bell ringers can't ever tell you who it was who put the money in because it's usually wrapped in bills," Curry said. "It's always wrapped in a way that we would know it was from 'Secret Santa.'"
Curry estimates the anonymous donor(s) has given at least $500,000 over the past approximately 10 years.
"You can imagine how many people we've been able to help with all that," she said.
This year's donation, which was the same amount as last year's, put the Salvation Army $50,000 closer to reaching its Christmas goal of $415,000 in donations. The money will be used to support the organization's clothing and housing initiatives, including a meal program that feeds 200 to 400 people per day, according to Curry.
"We have some members and longtime staff who have always tried to figure out who it is and who have their theories on who it could be," she said. "For others, it's kind of fun to just have the mystery. We like the idea of the anonymity and giving them the opportunity to be anonymous."
Next year the Joplin Salvation Army will celebrate its 125 th anniversary, which would lead one to imagine what kind of donation the "Secret Santa" might make.
"That would be great. We would love it," Curry said. "We're just grateful that that person cares enough about the community to give us that kind of money to work with."
You can raise money with your own kettle online by clicking here.