MORRIS – A 10-year tradition was continued Monday when an anonymous donor dropped three solid gold coins into one of The Salvation Army’s collection buckets in Morris.
“It’s hard not to expect them after so many years, but every time I’m still surprised and excited,” said Denise Gaska, executive director of We Care of Grundy County.
Gaska coordinates The Salvation Army Red Kettle Campaign in Grundy County, since the organization does not have an office in the area. In return, 80 percent of all proceeds stay within Grundy and can be spent by We Care, an organization that provides emergency food, rent and utility assistance to those in need in Grundy County.
The Morris Red Kettle Campaign began the day after Thanksgiving and will continue until a few days before Christmas.
Gaska said since she started at We Care 10 years ago, someone has always donated the three gold coins to one of the red kettles, but she thinks the tradition began a few years before she arrived.
“It’s kind of a tradition within Salvation Army, but most other places hope to get one gold coin,” Gaska said. “To get three is something kind of unique to us.”
The person who donates the coins remains a mystery to Gaska and the volunteers who collect the money. However, the anonymous philanthropist has a pattern, Gaska said.
Three half-ounce American Eagle gold coins – and it is always three – are wrapped in $1 bills and donated on the first night that Methodist Church volunteers are ringing, which typically is a Monday night.
This year’s coins were donated at the Jewel-Osco in Morris sometime Monday.
“We have no idea who it is or why they pick us, but I’m tickled,” said Deb Percell, the Rev. at the Methodist Church in Morris. The church is the only organization in town that assigns 16 volunteers to ring one night a week for every week of the campaign.
One year, the church manned a different location – Walmart – on a different night (a Tuesday). That year, the coins were still donated on a Monday night at Jewel, where Morris Community High School volunteers were working.
“I don’t know if they were confused or if they just like donating on Monday night,” Gaska said.
Since then, the coins have followed the Methodist volunteers to other locations.
“For a while I was scared to change anything because I didn’t want to ruin it,” Gaska said. “But it seems to follow [the Methodist volunteers].”
Every year, Gaska takes the coins to the Morris Coin Shop, where owner Phil Anderson will appraise and buy the coins, usually for slightly more money than they are worth.
Anderson appraised this year’s coins to be worth $1,835 total, but offered to buy them for $1,875. This is slightly less than last year’s appraisal because of a slight decrease in the price of gold.
“I usually sell them right when we get them,” Gaska said. “I like taking them to Phil because he will always give a fair price and I like to keep it local.”
Gaska said the coins are always minted in the same year they are donated – this year’s coins were minted in 2013 – suggesting that whoever donates them is buying the coins at market value.
“One year the price of gold spiked and I thought for sure we wouldn’t get three coins, but we still got them,” Gaska said.
Anderson said while he sells the exact American Eagle gold coins that were donated, he suspects they were not purchased at his shop. The plastic, protective cases the coins came in were different from those Anderson uses at his shop.
Gaska said she would like to meet the mystery donor who has given so much over the years, but understands why he or she would want to remain anonymous.
“They aren’t getting any tax breaks, or notoriety or anything like that,” Gaska said. “What they do comes straight from the heart.”
Collections for the Red Kettle Campaign in Morris will be taken every Monday through Thursday, from 4 to 8 p.m., outside of Wal-Mart and Jewel.
On weekends – Friday through Sunday – donations will be collected outside of Wal-Mart from 4 to 9 p.m. Friday; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday; and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.