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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - You've likely seen those red kettles and heard those bells as you walk into your favorite store, prompting you to reach into your pocket or the change console inside your car to donate to the Salvation Army. Halfway through the Red Kettle Campaign that ends Christmas Eve, the organization said donations have jumped from this time last year.
Through December 11, 2010, donations had totaled $242,886.35 in the Charlotte region. The figure in 2011 stood at $249,607.82, or a 2.8% increase. This year's goal of $425,000 is in reach, Maj. Todd Hawks said optimistically.
"The reality is, the economy was so bad last year that people just couldn't give, and I think people feel better this year and they're shopping, out a little bit more and contributing more," Hawks said.
The increase in giving comes at a perfect time. Five hundred new families have requested Christmas assistance, according to Salvation Army records.
The organization has also featured new ways for people to donate this season. At the Red Kettle outside the Macy's of SouthPark Mall, a card machine is attached to the kettle display for donors to use debit or credit cards to make a donation on a secure network. The card readers are also available at several other select locations in the Charlotte area.
There is even a way for groups or individuals to set up a "virtual" kettle through the Salvation Army website. Hawks said it takes a few minutes to set up and could be a great way for organizations to raise money for the Salvation Army.
This season, however, some people are giving more than just money. Salvation Army workers have found quite a few surprises inside their kettles; some sounding like money, but worth a lot more.
"This season we've received a couple of wedding rings, one engagement ring," Hawks smiles, "when we receive them, we keep them."
It seems to be a trend across the country.
In Lafayette, Indiana, one person dropped a gold coin in the kettle. It was valued at $1600. Another person gave away a $5,000 diamond ring in Spokane, Washington, while a Kansas donor wrapped a lone diamond inside a piece of paper and dropped it into the kettle.
Hawks said if jewelry is accidentally lost inside the kettle, the organization keeps the jewelry until the end of the Red Kettle Campaign in case someone comes to claim the items. If not, the organization will exchange the jewelry for cash to add to the donation total.
But for people who deliberately give sentimental items, it makes some would wonder what the motivation is. A note attached to one silver coin gives a perfect explanation.
"I've saved this ounce of silver for twenty years, I'm unemployed for 13 months, my house is in foreclosure, I'm filing for bankruptcy and at 61 my retirement is shot but I still know there are families in worse shape," the note read.
For those donations, the value is not measured in dollars, as much as the sense of sacrifice.