A widow slipped her diamond engagement ring and wedding band into a Salvation Army red kettle outside North Station Wednesday without raising suspicion, even from the man ringing the bell.
Salvation Army officials said they were stunned — and grateful for her generosity. The engagement ring was valued at $1,850, according to an appraisal that the woman included with her donation.
"In addition to money, I've seen watch batteries, paper clips, safety pins, all sorts of strange things, but this one takes the cake," said Lieutenant Michael Harper, commander of the Cambridge Salvation Army. He added that the rings' value was the largest donation he's ever seen dropped into a red kettle.
The rings were donated along with a note honoring the benefactor's late husband.
"I've dropped my wedding ring in your Red Kettle knowing that the money from its sale will buy toys for needy children," the woman wrote. "In all seasons, my husband was a giver. I especially remember his joy in giving at Christmastime, especially to those in need. To honor his memory, I donate this ring."
She went on to say that she hopes someone will purchase the ring for "ten times its worth," since "there's no price on love or the sentimental value of this ring."
The appraisal did not address the value of the wedding band.
The organization said the donations they receive pay for meals, toys, and other support for children, families, and seniors across the state, as well as provide funding for food pantries, soup kitchens, social services, and education programs year-round.
"We were stunned," Harper said. "We were really taken aback. One, by such generosity of something that was a deeply sacrificial gift, and something that was probably priceless to her. ... But then we didn't know if she was giving out of sadness for her husband, or if it gave her great joy."
Harper said that although the organization will not actively try to find the woman, he would like to meet her — even if it was privately — to tell her how grateful he is.
As for selling the rings, Harper did not know the next step.
"This is, like, one of those precedent-setting things, so we don't necessary have a protocol to turn to," he said.
The appraisal was from 2003, so commercially, the engagement ring may be worth more or less than $1,850.
But considering the "challenge of sorts" that the woman made — with her hope for a buyer who could spend 10 times the rings' worth — Harper said the organization may consider other ways of selling the jewelry.
The Salvation Army's statewide red kettle goal this year is $3.36 million.
The anonymous donor did give some clue to part of her motivation, writing a short proverb at the bottom of her note: "To find out what a man is worth, take away his money and his possessions."