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Chestnuts may be roasting over an open fire as the mercury plummets this week, but here's a Christmas story to warm your heart. Since The Salvation Army's bells started ringing around the area, two of its donations have been a 1-ounce silver bar and a gold South African Krugerrand coin deposited in two of its red kettles.

The 1998 silver bar with a commemorative Christmas theme, valued at more than $16, was dropped into a kettle at Hobby Lobby on Wednesday. A day later, the quarter-ounce gold 1982 Krugerrand, valued at $350-400, was discovered in a kettle at the westside Safeway, Salvation Army officials said Monday.

“This is giving at its best,” said Maj. Nathan Johnson, Black Hills coordinator for The Salvation Army. “It’s from the heart, and it proves there’s still gold in them thar hills.”

Bell ringer Michael Bailey said he was working at the Hobby Lobby kettle last week when a man dropped the 1-ounce silver bar into his kettle.

“He just walked by and dropped it in,” Bailey said Monday. “I didn’t even get a chance to see his face.”

Bailey said later in the week The Salvation Army tried to sell the silver bar at a local coin shop.

“They offered $16.75 for it, so I came back and told them I would give them $20 to keep it as a souvenir,” Bailey said after pulling the bar out of his pocket. “I thought it would be a nice thing to do to help out the cause.”

The generosity is appreciated by Salvation Army officials, who say donations dropped in its 24 Rapid City kettles and 11 other kettles scattered throughout the Black Hills have fallen short of expectations, probably because of last week’s snowstorms, which kept many people homebound.

“Our fundraising goal this holiday season is $393,000, and to date we’re at about one-third of our goal,” Johnson said. “The snow days last week cost us $3,000 to $5,000 in the Northern Hills, and we understand people want to play it safe and stay inside.

“But we hope as we near the holidays and people are out doing their last-minute shopping, that they’ll come to our aid."

Coins and bills dropped into The Salvation Army kettles, as well as seasonal contributions made directly, support the nonprofit organization’s charitable activities, which this year will include distribution of 2,200 boxes of food, purchase of hundreds of toys, assistance with utility payments, and vouchers for clothing and household items at Salvation Army thrift stores, Johnson noted.

“Approximately 8,000 people across the Hills area will be served by The Salvation Army at Christmastime,” he said. “Everything we raise will stay right here and help meet the needs of the less fortunate in our communities.”

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Johnson said Salvation Army efforts had been bolstered by dozens of volunteers from local banks, churches, area Realtors, members of Rotary, Kiwanis and Optimist clubs, and the region’s veterans.

“There are just families of volunteers that all impact the mission and ministry of The Salvation Army,” he said. “It’s absolutely amazing.”

Gold coins and valuable medallions have been dropped into Black Hills kettles in the past. The week before Christmas 2013, a Krugerrand appeared in a Sturgis kettle, and a 1-ounce gold Robert Frost medal was deposited in a kettle outside a Rapid City store. Each gold coin had a $100 bill wrapped around it.

Johnson and Lt. Crystal Sherack, The Salvation Army’s assistant pastor and coordinator of this year’s kettle drive, said they had seen a variety of items dropped into the buckets this year, including $50 worth of Canadian coins, washers, watch batteries, car wash tokens, a 2016 Liberty silver dollar, and $1 and $5 chips from Deadwood gaming halls.

But they said the silver bar and the gold coin illuminated the compassion of local residents intent on carrying on a tradition of caring for the needy.

“To me the anonymity of it all makes it so special, because those who made these donations are not doing it for fanfare or attention,” Sherack said. “They are doing it out of the genuine kindness of their heart.”

Those wishing to contribute to the 2016 Spirit of Christmas fundraiser may do so by mailing a check to: The Salvation Army, P.O. Box 3269, Rapid City, SD 57709-3269.

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