It’s become a tradition around the country for anonymous donors to drop gold coins into the Salvation Army’s red kettles, except in Charlotte.
Agency officials say it had never happened here – until this past weekend when someone tossed a gold coin into a kettle outside a Walmart in Indian Trail.
Commonly known as a “Walking Liberty,” the coin came with a note that said it was from Cuban Americans in Union County who wanted to help needy children. Salvation Army officials estimate the coin is worth $550.
And, yes, it will go to help the needy, including the purchase of toys for children registered with the Salvation Army’s Christmas Bureau.
This year, the bureau is providing toys to 12,200 children, with financial assistance from Observer readers who donate to the Empty Stocking Fund.
“We kept wondering when it was going to be our turn,” said Maj. Bobby Lancaster, area commander of the Salvation Amy of Greater Charlotte. “I’ve been an officer for the Salvation Army for 41 years, and I’ve heard all the stories of other places getting them. It’s something you dream about.”
Charlotte’s Salvation Army was justified in feeling shorted, after years of seeing media accounts of gold coins turning up annually in nearby towns like Shelby. Even Mebane had a Canadian Maple Leaf gold coin donated last year, and the town has a population of only about 11,000.
A 1998 Associated Press article refers to Charlotte’s command receiving a gold coin in years past, but agency officials say they have no record of it.
The closest the city has come, they say, is a gold tooth dropped into a kettle last year. It was melted down for cash. Many foreign coins are also tossed into the kettles, and the Salvation Army trades them in for U.S. currency, officials said.
Charlotte’s first gold coin was dropped into a kettle Friday and found Saturday morning by Steven Methvin of Connecticut, the visiting brother-in-law of Salvation Army board member Brian Savoy. Both were serving as volunteers at one of the highly secretive sessions where daily donations from the 80 kettle sites are counted.
“It’s like a backroom mob scene, with people counting greenbacks everywhere,” said Savoy. “He (Methvin) was digging around in the change and didn’t initially know what it was. I”m sure it made a lasting impression.”
The coin comes at a time when the agency is worried that its kettle campaign is in jeopardy of falling short, because there are five fewer days in the holiday season.
This year’s campaign, which ends Christmas Eve, has a goal of $435,000, the same as last year. The campaign missed the goal last year by $3,000.
Money raised through the Red Kettle program pays for a variety of year-round Salvation Army programs, including its homeless shelter for women and children, a rehab center for men, and the Boys and Girls Clubs.
“When I saw that coin,” Lancaster said, “my first thought was that it will help four or five more kids get help. It will do a lot of good and that was the donor’s intention.”
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