Golden opportunity

Gold and diamond jewelry dropped into kettle will help fund local aid

Mel Heath has a problem, but it's a good one.

Heath, who supervises the local Salvation Army's annual bell-ringing campaign, needs to find a way to turn three gold-and-diamond rings into cash - the most cash possible, because the Salvation Army's mission is to provide the most help for the most people possible.

The rings were dropped through the slot in one of the organization's signature red kettles last month.

Volunteer bell ringers - a veritable army of them - brave the cold to stand by local kettles in two-hour shifts from Thanksgiving weekend through Christmas Eve, collecting mostly coins and small bills. The Cortez bell-ringing drive brings in about $25,000 each year, and all of the money is spent locally, helping individuals and families with shelter, food, medication and other essentials.

Nationwide, gold coins occasionally are found in Salvation Army kettles, and every year someone here stuffs in a few $2 bills, Heath said, but the jewelry donation was a first in his experience.

Deposited with the rings was an unsigned note quoting William Penn, the Quaker founder of Pennsylvania. Heath believes the donor was determined to remain anonymous, because he or she slipped the rings into the kettle rather than donating them directly. Heath declined to allow the rings to be photographed, out of concern that someone might determine the donor's identity by recognizing the rings.

The white-bearded Heath is awed, he said, by "the faith someone had in the Salvation Army to drop those in the kettle." He believes he has a solemn responsibility to ensure the donation is used for its intended purpose.

"I want to do absolutely what's right with these," he said. "The donors expect them to help someone out."

The jewelry has been appraised for a figure Heath did not want to publicize. The Salvation Army Service Extension Committee, a group of local citizens who advise the organization, has authorized him to convert them to cash. He recognizes that he may have to sell the rings for less than their appraised value, but he hopes not. Perhaps someone will step forward to pay what they're worth. Perhaps someone is willing to pay a premium for a ring invested with so much goodwill.

Or perhaps not. Perhaps the jewelry must be sold on consignment, with a part of the sales price going to a jeweler or broker.

Until the rings are sold, though, the funds they represent remain on ice, unavailable to meet the many needs the Salvation Army identifies in the community.