Just as surely as Burl Ives sings "Silver and Gold" on "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" every Christmastime, good-hearted souls surreptitiously plunk the precious metals into Salvation Army kettles.
"Silver and gold. Silver and gold. Everyone wishes for silver and gold. How do you measure its worth? Just by the pleasure it gives here on earth."
OK, the bearded snowman may have been singing about Christmas decorations, but the power of gold at Christmastime does more than provide warm and fuzzy feelings.
Red kettle donations help pay for food, rent, clothes, prescriptions and transportation for those in need.
The Salvation Army's Metropolitan Division serves more than 137,000 people during the holiday season, delivering more than 30,000 food baskets, 56,000 articles of clothing and 153,000 toys.
Everyday good will -- change from the grocery store, a buck or two as you're entering the mall to do your Christmas shopping -- is what sustains the kettle program.
But every once in a while, someone anonymously makes an over-the-top donation.
The first gold piece of the season in Lake County this year was deposited in a kettle outside a Jewel store in Grayslake a week ago, an American Double Eagle worth more than $1,700 wrapped in a 1,000-yen note.
On the same day, a South African Kruggerand of roughly the same value was dropped in a kettle at Casey's Foods in Naperville.
It's no longer surprising that these coins show up -- or the bundles of hundred-dollar bills or the Morgan silver dollars. The practice began 25 years ago in McHenry County. But it's always inspiring.
Clearly, not everyone can do this. Fewer still can make such an offering as we continue to rebuild our retirement accounts or even look for jobs. Many of us who had contributed to kettle campaigns in the past are now on the receiving end of the beneficence of others.
This time of year naturally is a time when people are in a giving mood, and we in no way wish to quell that.
The real challenge for many charitable groups across the spectrum is what happens the other 10 months of the year.
Just before Thanksgiving we checked in on the FISH food pantry in Carpentersville to see whether the organization was hurting for food donations. Need was way up, but donations were keeping pace.
"People always tend to think of food pantries at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but it's those lean months of February and March and April and especially our worst months -- our July and August -- when we really need help with food," pantry President Mary Graziano said.
The trick is to maintain this giving spirit all year round.