Call it paying it forward — big time.
A Minnesota couple — who at one time lived on discarded food — quietly put a personal check for $500,000 into a Salvation Army kettle located outside a grocery store in a Twin Cities suburb over the weekend.
The emblematic red kettle, which the humanitarian organization have set up in public places to solicit donations across the globe for decades, was placed outside a Cub Foods in Rosemount, Minn. — a town about twenty miles outside of Minneapolis/St. Paul.
At the time, the kettle was being manned by volunteers from the Rosemount Fire Department. When the couple dropped in their check, the firefighters were unaware that the donation had been made and only hours later realized the bounty they had stumbled across, Salvation Army Northern Division spokeswoman Julie Borgen told NBC News.
Each of the 575 kettle locations across the Twin Cities metro area averages about $30 in donations per hour, Borgen said. So the check instantly became the largest single donation ever to the Salvation Army in the Twin Cities, surpassing the previous record of $25,000 by 20 times.
When the Salvation Army reached out to the couple whose name was on the check, they insisted on remaining behind the scenes, Borgen said. They said the donation was a way for them to give back and added that they wanted to honor one of their fathers who served in World War I and was always grateful to Salvation Army "Doughnut Lassies" who brought soldiers free coffee and treats.
The donors told the Salvation Army they had relied on discarded food from a local grocery store as a young couple and can now afford to help others.
"You get to a point in life where it's time to take care of others, the way you were taken care of," the donors said in a statement from the Salvation Army.
"We were just completely floored by the amount of the donation," said Borgen, who added that the organization’s goal of raising $11.6 million from Oct 1-Dec 31 was now a real possibility.
That donation could go a long way. The organization, Borgen said, was running almost exactly half a million dollars behind its target thus far in the Christmas campaign and feared it would have to reach into its reserves to meet its end-of-the-year goals in the Twin Cities area.
The organization has served 186,000 people in the Twin Cities in 2015 alone, providing 9,000 winter coats to children and groceries to over 100,000 individuals, she said.
“We really depend on the Christmas season for donations,” said Borgen. “With this donation, we expect to meet goals and give back just as this couple so generally gave to us.”