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Gold coins worth $1,500 each dropped into Salvation Army kettles

Salvation Army red kettle attended to by a bell ringer, Kroger supermarket (Dwight Burdette/WikiCommons)

By one account, St. Nicholas, the 4th-Century inspiration for Santa Claus, helped a poor father cover his three daughters’ wedding dowries by anonymously giving him three bags of gold.

Now, folks are anonymously dropping gold coins in Salvation Army kettles nationwide, and in addition to gold coins, there have even been reports of other unusual Salvation Army kettle donations, including a diamond ring and, believe it or not, gold teeth.

But, news about gold coin donations also comes at a time when the international human services charity, at least in its eastern Michigan division, is facing fewer donations. This holiday season, the organization reduced its goal to $8 million, down from $8.2 million, and is about 10% down in donations.

Among the reasons why are fewer days between the end of Thanksgiving and Christmas, mass layoffs and overall uncertainty about the economy, which have some donors worried about job security, said Sharon Tatom Garcia, the director of communications for the Salvation Army of Eastern Michigan.

Still, in metro Detroit, two gold coins – so far this holiday season – have pulled out of red kettles. The second coin, a 1976 South African gold Krugerrand worth about $1,500, was found Wednesday night in a kettle at the Kroger in St. Clair Shores.

At least one gold coin has been found there for the past seven years.

“It’s definitely a tradition,” Tatom Garcia said, noting that the coin likely inspires other gifts. “Every year we’re waiting for it, and we are ready to alert the media and put it on our social media page. People seem to really get excited about it.”

It’s unclear when the practice of dropping gold coins into kettles started or why people do it.

The first coin this season was donated on Tuesday in Roseville, the same city where a 53-year-old man is accused of stealing a Salvation Army kettle earlier this month. Jeffrey Claydon Jr. of Eastpointe, police said, took off with the kettle when the bell ringer took a break.

Tatom Garcia said the charity suspects the first donor gave in Roseville to replace the money that was stolen. The second donation — perhaps the same, or maybe a different donor — probably lives in the area, but the Salvation Army doesn’t know.

Nationwide, an increasing number of anonymous do-gooders are dropping valuable coins — often gold, South African Krugerrands — into Salvation Army donation kettles, a trend that seems to run counter to the digital era, in which money is donated electronically.

This year, the charity said, folks can donate through Kettle Pay, using their cell phones and Apple Pay and Google Pay. They can also scan QR codes with their phones or connect with embedded smart chips to donate, go online at or text KETTLE to 91999.

And beginning Friday, through New Year’s Eve, all donations in metro Detroit up to $490,000 will be doubled by the Consortium of Hope, which, as its name suggests, is a group of philanthropists and businesses.

Over the years, news accounts report Krugerrands — and other valuable coins — have been left in kettles in cities across America, including Indianapolis; Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; Reno, Nevada; Naperville, Illinois; Waterloo, Iowa; Fort Collins, Colorado, and Daphne, Alabama.

Most kettles earn about $500 a day, according to the organization. However, in the past two days alone, the Salvation Army has received $3,000 in the form of just two gold coins alone. The donations, the charity says, go to help people in need.

Every year, the coins in St. Clair Shores are slipped into the kettle, wrapped in paper money, without fanfare. The charity then alerts the media, and local news reports resurface speculation about who the donor — or donors — might be.

Still, the charity said it doesn’t look too hard to find the donor. Believers already know.


© 2019 the Detroit Free Press