Some of the biggest surprises come in the smallest packages. That sentiment most certainly rang true for one Salvation Army bell ringer at a Walmart in Treasure Coast, Florida, just two days before Christmas.
He's seen many coins pulled from purses and pockets, heard the cash clink as it hit the bottom of the Salvation Army's iconic red kettles, but Jim Bessy has probably never been given what one donor handed him on Friday: A coin with ties to a fleet of Spanish galleons off the coast of Vero Beach.
According to Treasure Coast News, the gold Escudo, which is worth thousands of dollars, was handed to Bessy by an anonymous donor who wanted to ensure the historically significant coin didn't end up mixed in with the rest of the cash in the kettle. At the end of his shift on Friday, the longtime volunteer handed the gold piece over to Salvation Army Lt. Jay Needham.
As it turns out, this is Needham's first season as a corps officer for the Indian River County chapter of the Salvation Army, and now, it's one he'll never forget. Immediately after he was given the coin, Needham said he began searching for more information about it on the internet.
The "treasure" is in a plastic case, which has the words "1715 Fleet 1 Escudo" etched into it.
"This is certainly a big welcome for me to the Treasure Coast," the lieutenant told the newspaper. "My first Christmas here comes with treasure from a 300-year-old ship. It brings a 300-year-old story about treasure together with a 2,000 year-old-story about the birth of our Savior at Christmas."
The coin, according to Treasure Coast News, is no small donation:
More than 200 Spanish sunken treasure coins were retrieved along the Treasure Coast in 2015 and were valued at more than $1 million. The coins, which were part of the 1715 fleet that sunk in a hurricane off the coast on July 31, 1715, were recovered by a contractor working for 1715 Fleet-Queens Jewels LLC, a historic shipwreck salvage company based in Sebastian.
Needham said he is grateful for the thoughtful donation, which is sure to bring light to many families in need this holiday season.
"This coin will help bring light on so many stories of families in need right here in Indian River County," he said. "With this great contribution and so many more from around this generous community, we are able to help people that are in need during the Christmas season and into the New Year. We would like to say thank you for this great donor for the special coin at this special season of giving."
As far as Salvation Army marketing director John Corapi can remember, this is the first time the charity's Indian River County chapter has received such a lavish donation.
Salvation Army chapters in other states — including Colorado, Kentucky, Montana, Oregon and Wisconsin — have received similar gold coins, all of which were estimated to have been worth more than $1,000.
The tradition of donating gold pieces to the Salvation Army began in 1982, USA Today reported, when a donor in the Chicago suburb of Crystal Lake donated the first gold coin.