Dec. 14, 2011 — -- A generous secret Santa returned again this year and dropped $50,000 in anonymous checks in a Salvation Army kettle in Joplin, Mo., the charity reported.
The five checks, each worth $10,000 and written by "Santa," were wrapped in dollar bills, so as not to tip off the bell ringer as to the identity of the mystery donor.
"I almost dropped to my knees. Because that's lot amount of money. And I was just too grateful that Secret Santa came through once again," said Lt. James Curry of the Salvation Army.
Over the last eight years, this donor has dropped $500,000 in Salvation Army kettles, and managed to keep his identity secret.
"If you knew who Secret Santa was it's kind of like Batman, you don't want to know who he is...it would take the mystery out of it," said Margaret Mitchell, who has been a bell ringer for three years.
Mitchell says the money will go towards "our feeding programs, shelter programs and utilities rental assistance throughout the year."
But generosity isn't the only thing the Salvation Army kettles in Joplin have attracted. While a bell ringer was taking a break from her kettle outside an Old Navy store, a man stood by the unattended kettle with his hand outstretched and asked people for money, according to the Associated Press. Police are still looking for the man, who made off with an undetermined amount of cash.
Gold Bars and a Diamond Dropped in Missouri and Kansas Kettles
Over the weekend, two gold bars were dropped into Salvation Army collection kettles -- a 10-gram gold bar worth up to $800 and a 5-gram gold bar worth $310 -- in different parts of Kansas City, Mo.
Last year the Salvation Army received an identical 5-gram gold bar worth $300, according to Major Michele Heaver, a Salvation Army spokeswoman.
The grand gestures aren't limited to gold, however. Two weeks ago, a loose 3/4-carat diamond said to be worth about $2,000 was found in a kettle outside a Walmart in Shawnee, Kan. The appraiser offered to place the stone in a setting so the Salvation Army could auction it off as a ring, but the group has not yet decided what to do with it.
Heaver said her unit has found silver dollars (including one that had never been circulated), tokens for pizza places, a gold wedding band, a dead goldfish and a scrabble piece in their collection kettles. Those are strange but small objects, able to fit through the small slot in the kettle.
The kettle tradition dates back to 1891, when Salvation Army Captain Joseph McFee was looking for a way to fund holiday dinners for the poor. He decided to use a pot to collect money, with a sign that read "Keep the Pot Boiling."
Today, the Salvation Army helps more than 4.5 million people during the holidays, providing poor families with toys and Christmas food baskets.
You can raise money with your own kettle online by clicking here.