MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A group of anonymous Santas are helping the Salvation Army fill its red kettles this holiday season in Minnesota and North Dakota.

Donations had been down 20 to 30 percent compared with last year until a small group of anonymous donors pooled their resources to create $2 million in matching funds that doubled all donations given in Minnesota and North Dakota on Friday and Saturday, charity officials said.

Final numbers won’t be tallied until early next week, but Salvation Army officials said they were now optimistic about meeting their Twin Cities fundraising goal of $10.8 million.

“We were very worried,” Salvation Army spokeswoman Annette Bauer said. She attributed the drop to a late Thanksgiving that gave bell-ringers a late start, followed by bitterly cold weather that thinned the ranks of volunteers for several crucial days.

The charity scrambled to get the word out about the available matching funds and succeeded far beyond expectations. Friday’s kettle donations in the Twin Cities alone were $194,000, up $21,000 from the same day last year.

Donations in some smaller cities showed an even more dramatic increase. In Devils Lake, N.D., Friday’s kettle donations were about $6,600, up from $500 a year ago. Minot kettles took in more than $40,000 Friday. Before Friday, Minot’s best day this season was $5,700.

Online donations also surged, Bauer said.

“Before Friday, we knew there was no way we could reach our goal,” Maj. Jeff Strickler said. “This turnaround is nothing short of a miracle.”

In Rochester, Think Bank also offered to match up to $10,000 in donations for Friday and Saturday, meaning a dollar stuffed in a kettle there became a $3 donation.

“In baseball, you know, a triple play is pretty rare — and this is pretty rare,” Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede said.

The Salvation Army said there were also reports of heavy giving at kettles in Mankato, Duluth and St. Cloud. In International Falls, the average daily kettle total was under $5,000. On Friday, it was $20,000.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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