FAIRBANKS — Salvation Army’s bell ringers typically fill their red kettles with handfuls of spare change and a few crumpled bills but on Friday, just two days before Christmas, they found an early surprise in their midst — 10 one-ounce silver bars.
Salvation Army employees and volunteers found the 10 well-worn, silver bars, about the size of a Halloween fun-sized candy bar, when they emptied their kettles to count the day’s fundraising, bringing excitement to the annual tradition.
When the first silver bar was found, the Salvation Army thought it was dropped in a kettle by accident, Major Kevin Bottjen said. Stamped with “Fathers Day, June 17, 1973,” it was the sort of thing someone might keep in their pocket and give by accident, he said.
“At first, we didn’t know what to do,” he said. “People empty their pockets with thumb drives and wedding rings ... and we’ll get a call a few days later.”
But as they opened more kettles from around Fairbanks, they found more bars, all stamped in 1973 or 1974. The unknown gift giver made stops at six area stores — both Fred Meyers, both Safeway stores, Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club — and deposited the silver, valued at almost $29 per ounce today, in 10 different kettles.
“It’s never happened to me,” Bottjen said. “You’ve heard stories of gold coins being dropped in kettles in the Lower 48, but nothing like this . We were laughing by the end of it.”
Bottjen said he plans to take the metal to a local collector to see if there’s the chance that they could be worth more than market value.
“The Salvation Army doesn’t hold silver securities,” he said, “so we’re hoping someone will buy them for fair market value.”
And while the 10 silver bars, which total about $300, are a relatively small drop in the bucket when compared to the Salvation Army’s $70,000 goal, Bottjen said the gesture and the effort to visit multiple stores in order to spread the unique donation meant a lot to the Salvation Army’s employees and volunteers.
“This was such an awesome blessing,” he said.
“This was somebody going out of their way to bless somebody. But I want to say ‘thank you’ to all the people who give, it really does help us to fulfill our promise of ‘Doing The Most Good.’”