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Wednesday February 10th, 2016 5:42AM

Secret Santa drops $5,500 into Salvation Army kettle

By The Associated Press
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - On the same day a Gainesville man was charged with stealing his Salvation Army Christmas Kettle collections, someone slipped a $5,500 donation into one of the red kettles in northwest Georgia.

Salvation Army spokeswoman Kimberly George said the charity found 55 $100 bills in one of its donation kettles, making it the largest cash donation in the area.

She said the gift deposited Tuesday is especially welcome because donations have been flat at best this season.

"This will be a boost, but the need is great," George said. "Need is up 30 percent and donations have been, at best, flat."

George said there have been similar large gifts in past years and "we hope this will inspire others."

She said a man who put the money in a red kettle at the Kmart plaza in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., told the bell ringer, 'Merry Christmas, please remember me.'"

The bell ringer did not describe the man.

Large holiday donations in previous years in the same area possibly came from the same person, George said.

In the past, kettles have yielded 43 and 23 $100 bills and, one year, 1,500 $2 bills.

On Tuesday, 41-year-old Ernest Mize of Gainesville was arrested and charged with the theft of Salvation Army proceeds he allegedly took while serving at a collection post at Wal-Mart in Oakwood. (See earlier story.)
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