Just what ends up in Salvation Army red kettles? - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Just what ends up in Salvation Army red kettles?

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -

The Waterloo Salvation Army is attempting to raise $670,000 during this year's Red Kettle Campaign.  Coins, dollar bills, and check donations help provide funding for meal programs, utility assistance, homeless shelters and more.  But a lot more than money finds a way into red kettles each year.

Ringing bells outside nearly every store have become a familiar sound of the season.  Dozens of volunteers give their time to ring, raising important funds for the Salvation Army.

"The kettle campaign and the mail appeal campaign that goes along with it during Christmas raises almost half of our annual budget," said Captain Rob Whitney with the Waterloo Salvation Army.

After each bell ringer's shift ends, the red kettles are brought to Salvation Army headquarters, where the sorting process begins.  While the buckets are mostly full of dollars and cents, there are often some strange, sometimes unpleasant, discoveries made.

"Anywhere from a simple paper clip somebody might be carrying in their pocket to a screw or bolt to some really interesting things.  My wife one year found a marijuana roach.  We found a condom one time in the kettle, thankfully not a used one.  It was in the package, obviously.  We've found tokens for bars, token for Chuck-E-Cheese's, tokens for car washes -- just all sorts of different things," Captain Whitney said.

But not all the hidden treasures found inside kettles are bad.  Each year, the Salvation Army gets at least one highly valuable gold coin.  Jewelry also winds up in kettles.  It's held onto until after the holidays, to make sure it wasn't dropped in a bucket by mistake. And sometimes, gifts are accompanied by notes to let the charity know how much its work is appreciated.

"Just the other day we got a money order that was put in, and it said 'a dollar for each day'.  So the money order was for $365.  They'd apparently put aside a dollar each day, so when they dropped in the kettle they dropped $365, which was quite a blessing," said Captain Whitney.

While Salvation Army employees have a lot of fun sorting through all the unique treasures that find their way into red kettles each holiday season, they say every donation that has any actual value, big or small, goes a long way to helping meeting its mission and serve the community year-round.

Among other unique items often found in red kettles: foreign currency.  But usually, it's not cost efficient for the Salvation Army to exchange that money at the bank.  

Right now, the Waterloo Salvation Army is just more than halfway to its goal for this year, with a little more than two weeks left to go in the campaign.

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