The anonymous gift was enclosed in a clear plastic sleeve, protection for the first shimmering gold piece this season to be plunked into a Salvation Army collection kettle in Lake County.
For good measure, the one-ounce Double Eagle gold coin worth about $1,730 was wrapped in a 1000 Yen bill worth about $12 when it was retrieved Nov. 30 from a kettle stationed at the Jewel store in Grayslake.
This pattern of anonymous donations of gold and silver pieces or large sums of cash dropped in Salvation Army kettles across the Chicago area has become a punctual practice for more than 25 years. And while expected, the first gifts still provide a surge of holiday spirit.
"We do (expect the donations), but it's always a surprise when the first coins drop," said Alyse Chadwick, a spokesman for the Salvation Army.
Technically, the Double Eagle found in Lake County tied as the first of the kettle season, which began Nov. 9 and runs through Dec. 24. Also on Nov. 30, a South African Kruggerand was deposited in a kettle at Casey's Foods in Naperville, though the estimated value at $1,700 was slightly less.
While there is some anticipation of where the first gold coins will be tallied, the satisfaction comes in knowing the flow has begun. Last year, gold and silver coins appraised at $14,000 were collected in the 66 kettle sites in Lake County, according to Capt. William Holman, who heads the Salvation Army Waukegan Corps office.
On the same day the Double Eagle was donated, someone bundled and dropped eight $100 bills, two $50 bills and five $20 bills for a $1,000 gift in the kettle at a Sam's Club in Gurnee. Another donor dropped four $100 bills in the kettle at Dominick's in Lake Bluff.
The next day, Dec. 1, two 0.1-ounce Canadian gold coins worth $170 each were donated in kettles in Round Lake Beach and Gurnee. And somewhere along the way, six Morgan Liberty Head silver dollars with dates from 1896 to 1928, as well as a 1902 quarter were deposited in kettles.
Donations are used for financial assistance for those in need for expenses such as rent, clothing, transportation or prescription drugs. Poverty and unemployment continue to fuel requests for assistance, some from people who used to donate themselves.
"We're $20,000 ahead of where we were last year and we had a very good year last year," Holman said. "Even in a down economy like it was last year, we were able to raise $434,000. Our goal is to reach a half a million."
The Salvation Army first reported the donation of a gold coin more than 25 years ago in McHenry County. Since then, more than 400 gold coins "of every type and description" have been received from anonymous donors.
"They really do it not to get the recognition but in the spirit of giving," Chadwick said.