By Erin Mathews

The Salina Journal

A 1-ounce gold coin was dropped into a Salvation Army collection kettle at Salina's Central Mall on Saturday, giving a much-needed lift to this year's fundraising effort, said Maj. Dan Burris of the Salvation Army of Salina.

"This is a huge boost in the arm right here," Burris said Monday morning, as he held the shiny coin produced by the Royal Canadian Mint in 1985 as part of the Maple Leaf series of gold bullion coins. "This is a great blessing to the Salvation Army."

Donor unknown

Burris said the bell ringer, who had been standing at a Sears entrance at the mall at 2259 S. Ninth, had no idea who could have donated the coin to the kettle.

The coin has a face value of $50, but its worth in gold is significantly more. Websites were reporting gold values at around $1,200 an ounce Monday, and a similar 1985 coin featuring Queen Elizabeth II was being offered for $2,100 on eBay.

While in previous years gold coins have appeared in collection kettles in Wichita, Topeka and other cities across the country, Roxanne Matous, office manager and social service worker, said this is the first one to be deposited in a Salina kettle in her 25 years of working for the local organization.

Giving down overall

Burris said the coin was especially well-received because giving has not kept pace with previous years since 13 kettles were placed at stores around Salina on Nov. 18.

Typically about $70,000 has been raised a few dollars at a time in the bell ringers' kettles at Christmastime. Not counting the gold coin, with only 14 days to go until Christmas, this year's donations as of Monday morning amounted to just more than $26,000.

Burris said Salvation Army receives no United Way funding and is reliant on its own fundraising efforts.

Temperatures affect giving

The lack of snow this year hasn't helped the bell-ringing effort, Burris said. He said when temperatures are colder, people seem to empathize with the bell ringers and give more.

When temperatures are more mild people are "not thinking so much of the kettles," he said. He said he thinks donations being down also can be traced to fewer people having money to give as the result of economic changes in recent years.

Burris said it really "bothers me in my spirit" that Salvation Army has to compete for donations with other worthy organizations that do good works in Salina. He said the Emergency Aid/Food Bank, Salina Rescue Mission, Ashby House and other agencies work together to provide for Salina's needy.

"There are so many agencies that are valuable to this community," he said. "We're part of the solution, and so is every other agency. If you were homeless or really down on your luck, this is a good place to be. The community is giving."

Need donations to help people

But Burris said Salvation Army will have to have additional contributions in its kettles in order to keep its programs at the level at which they have been.

In 2013, 15,660 people were helped in a variety of ways by Salina's Salvation Army, Matous said.

The money collected in kettles helps pay Salvation Army's operational expenses, such as salaries, maintenance and utility costs at the building at 1137 N. Santa Fe. It also is used to help with the organization's feeding and after-school programs.

Eight-hundred to 1,000 people a month eat evening meals at the Salvation Army. Meals are served five days a week, Matous said. Burris said a variety of people come for the meals, ranging in age from the very old to the very young.

Generosity shown in other areas

Burris said generous donations are being made to the Salina Christmas Fund, which distributes 100 percent of the donations as assistance to area people in need. The money is used for rent assistance and paying for utilities, food, clothing and funeral expenses.

Also, donors took every angel from Salvation Army's angel tree, and gifts of clothing are coming in for distribution to 823 children.

He said 1,200 people will come to the Salvation Army building to receive baskets of food on Dec. 17. Most of the food in the baskets was collected through Project Salina. He said Salvation Army contributed $10,000 worth of Dillons gift cards, which the recipients will be able to use toward turkeys, milk, ham or whatever they want to complete their holiday meal.

Families also will be able to select from donated toys, and Angel Tree clothing gifts will be distributed.

"We provide good services," Burris said. "But we need to be able to pay for the staff to do it, and our building."

(c)2014 The Salina Journal