FT. OGLETHORPE, GA -- At a time when Christmas donations are down across northwest Georgia, a secret Santa left a surprise in a Salvation Army kettle in the town of Ft. Oglethorpe.
On Battlefield Parkway in Ft. Oglethorpe, Salvation Army bell ringers have seen some generous donations over the past two or three years. An anonymous contributor dropped $4,300 into a kettle last year. Someone followed up with a $2,300 donation at a kettle on the very same stretch of road.
In the struggling economy of 2010, the Salvation Army was afraid it wouldn't happen this Christmas season.
"You see a lot of ones, and on some days, a lot of fives and tens come in," said bell ringer Richard Vincent of the donations he's seen this season. "You don't see a lot of hundreds."
Not until this week.
The Salvation Army knew they had something out of the ordinary when a man revealing a smile, but not his name, dropped his gift into a kettle in front of the Battlefield Parkway K-Mart.
"The gentleman walked up, put some money in the kettle, and said 'Merry Christmas, remember me,'" said Kimberly George of the Salvation Army.
The organization wasn't sure what they had until the kettle was emptied at the Salvation Army command center just over the state line in Chattanooga. Jennifer Fisher saw a couple of $100 bills, then a couple more, then a couple more.
"I started screaming," said Fisher. "I found different piles of $100 bills. Everyone was excited and we were counting out loud. Everyone was cheering."
In all, that one kettle held 55 crisp $100 bills. Some came in an envelope, some were loose, leading the Salvation Army to believe there may have been more than one anonymous Christmas elf.
The surprise couldn't come at a better time. While kettle donations in the Ft. Oglethorpe area are down from previous years, demand from those in need is up.
"We need this kind of boost," said George. "We're hoping it challenges others to give."