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Red kettle strikes gold

SalvatiArmy Bellringer Inger Balderas collects donations Tuesday December 4 2012 next kettle thonce aganetted $1700 gold cofew days ago front

Salvation Army Bellringer Inger Balderas collects donations on Tuesday, December 4, 2012 next to the kettle that once again netted a $1,700 gold coin a few days ago in front of Casey's Foods in Naperville. | Steven Buyansky~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 6, 2013 9:58AM

It’s becoming a yuletide tradition.

The mysterious donor of the region’s first gold Krugerrand to the Salvation Army again chose Casey’s Foods in Naperville as the drop site this year.

The one-ounce coin, valued at about $1,700, was slipped into the red kettle sometime last Friday, the agency’s metropolitan division announced Tuesday.

Arrival of the highly precious currency comes as the Salvation Army scrambles to meet a volume of demand that continues to escalate with the ongoing economic downturn.

The Aurora Salvation Army Corps, which encompasses Naperville, has seen its emergency food requests increase by 42 percent since the slump began. Hunger relief is one of the primary uses for the coins left in the agency’s kettles at this time of year, when the Metropolitan Division serves more than 137,000 people and delivers more than 30,000 food baskets, 56,000 items of clothing and 153,000 toys to those in need.

“This time of year, we are reminded of the generosity of our donors, and the needs of our clients,” said Capt. Antonio Romero of The Salvation Army Aurora Corps.

The secret-donor tradition began more than 25 years ago, when an anonymous philanthropist left a gold coin with a bell ringer in McHenry County. More than 400 gold coins, in a variety of types with assorted national origins, have been left in kettles around the Chicago area by anonymous donors since then.

The first gold coin found last holiday season also was dropped into the kettle at Casey’s. Mayor A. George Pradel was delighted to learn of the repeat performance.

The mayor said he can’t walk past a bell ringer and red kettle without depositing something — though his donations tend to have a lower dollar value than the Krugerrands.

“I have no idea who would have gold coins, but I think it says a lot for the residents of Naperville... that he or she admires the Salvation Army so much,” he said.

It’s unlikely the relief agency will ever know whether it was the same anonymous benefactor at work outside Casey’s both this year and last.

“We can speculate and hypothesize,” said Salvation Army spokesman Alyse Chadwick. “That’s kind of half the fun.”

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