BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - "Love can last a lifetime -- and it should..." So begins a letter that recently showed up in a Salvation Army red kettle in Biloxi. The note was wrapped around a set of wedding bands, and was dropped off by a mysterious woman. Now the Salvation Army is looking for a deserving couple to use the rings and honor the wishes of their secret Santa.
Salvation Army employee Sara Miller and her daughter, Jessica Riddle, were working the kettle drive at the Biloxi Walmart Friday, November 29 when an older woman came up with a wad of paper in her hand.
"She stuffed the paper into the kettle, working hard because the paper was so big. I asked if she wanted help, but she said no. That she wanted to do it on her own," said Riddle.
"We all wondered what could be in the paper," said Miller, who serves as Development Director for The Salvation Army. "We couldn't wait to get back to The Salvation Army office to see what the woman worked so hard to get into the kettle."
Later that evening, as the last kettle was being counted, Riddle dumped the coin filled kettle on the table and found the tightly folded and taped paper.
"I unwrapped the paper and we all stared in disbelief," said Riddle. "Inside was two rings taped to the paper and a long note. One looked like an engagement ring and the other a wedding band. We couldn't believe it."
The letter made it clear who was to benefit from the donation.
"Perhaps there is a young man who wishes to marry, but being of modest income cannot afford a big diamond. Perhaps The Salvation Army knows of a Christian couple wishing to make a commitment - for life - to each other. If so, please give these rings to that special young man for his bride," the anonymous donor wrote.
The Salvation Army plans to do just that. Besides gifting the rings to one lucky couple, the bride and groom will also receive a wedding at the Salvation Army Kroc Center in Biloxi and a reception afterwards. Organizers are looking for sponsors to help with food, flowers, decorations and other wedding needs.
"We are blessed to have received this gift from our Secret Santa," said Major Gary Sturdivant, Area Commander for The Salvation Army. "We knew immediately that we needed to do more than simply give away the rings. With our Salvation Army Kroc Center we have the ability to help a couple have a full wedding with a chapel, reception, photographs – the whole nine yards. And that's exactly what we plan to do."
The rings were taken to Pav and Broome Jewelers in Gulfport where the owners donated their services to appraise and authenticate the rings as being real gold and diamonds.
The wedding contest is open to any deserving couple who would like a wedding they couldn't otherwise afford. They may enter individually or as a couple. Entries will be accepted until midnight January 1, 2014.
The winning couple will be announced mid January and will receive a Valentine's Day dinner out at a local restaurant where the gentleman will ask his future bride to marry him, per the wishes of the Secret Santa. The wedding will be planned and will occur shortly afterwards, depending on the couple's schedule.
Couples wishing to enter the contest to win the wedding may complete a registration form online: http://bit.ly/19mdT3E
They can also send a letter to 2019 22nd Street, Gulfport, MS 39501, explaining what hardships they have faced and why they feel as though they deserve the rings and a wedding.
Only one entry per couple.
The Salvation Army is also seeking local businesses to help with the wedding. Those interested may contact Sarah Miller at 228-207-2553.