HARBORCREEK, Pa. — The winning Pennsylvania Lottery ticket, worth $1,000, was slipped into the Salvation Army red kettle, tucked inside a wad of $1 bills.
No one knew it at the time.
The anonymous donation, made Dec. 6 outside the Walmart in Harborcreek Township, 5741 Buffalo Road, had the appearance of any other donation.
But the timing of the generous gift could not have been better for the Erie County Salvation Army, as the agency's kettle drive continues to struggle once again through a holiday season.
As of Monday, the 2016 campaign had collected $79,790, down more than $22,000 from the $102,280 collected at this time in 2015, officials said.
The local 2015 kettle drive collected $158,872, its lowest total since 2008.
The drive, which began Nov. 8 and ends Dec. 24, funds the agency's holiday and toy programs for thousands of low-income residents. Salvation Army officials set a goal of collecting $190,000 for the 2016 drive, the same goal as last year's campaign.
"We are so pleased, especially since we're so far behind. It helps quite a bit," Bernie Myers, business administrator for the local Salvation Army, said about the anonymous winning ticket.
The ticket was a winner for the Fantastic 10s instant game, according to Pennsylvania Lottery officials, who made the announcement Tuesday.
"We've received donations of winning instant tickets in the past, but they're usually in an amount of $10 or $20 — never something of this size," said Major Leslie Walter, officer of the local Salvation Army. "We are very grateful for this generous donation which will help us to serve people and families in need."
The local drive's struggles mirror the fundraising challenges being faced throughout the 28-county Western Pennsylvania Division of the Salvation Army, which includes Erie and Crawford counties.
The division is lagging 2015's totals by more than $300,000, with Allegheny County's Salvation Army reporting the largest decline at around $62,000, Myers said Tuesday.
Myers cited fewer volunteer bell ringers and snowy weather this past weekend as some of the reasons for why he thinks the Erie-area drive has declined this year. Volunteers and their kettles are located at 22 sites across Erie County.
Thanks to truesee for the tip.