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Dec 24, 2013 2:46 PM by AP

Salvation Army bell ringers collect 2 golden rings

BILOXI, Miss. (AP) - Salvation Army bell-ringers in Biloxi collected two golden rings.

The diamond engagement and wedding rings were wrapped in a two-page letter asking that they go to a Christian couple who cannot afford a diamond and are making a lifetime commitment.

"Love can last a lifetime - and it should," begins the letter stuffed painstakingly into a kettle outside the Biloxi Walmart.

A Gulfport jeweler verified the rings as gold and diamonds worth $499, the Salvation Army of Alabama, Lousiana and Mississippi said on its blog.

The Coast Salvation Army said Monday that it is holding a contest for the rings. Entrants can describe hardships they have faced and why they feel they deserve the rings and a free wedding.

The group's Kroc Center lets it "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," said Maj. Gary Sturdivant, area commander for south Mississippi.

They rings aren't the first dropped into a local Salvation Army kettle this year. A woman dropped a $1,500 topaz ring on Nov. 18 into a kettle in Birmingham, Ala., and a set of silver wedding rings turned up this year in Alexandria, La., according to the regional blog.

The Alabama woman "bought the ring over 10 years ago from a missionary to support the Lord's work in the Mission field," said Brandy Crumly, director of development for The Salvation Army's Greater Birmingham Area Command.

She said the woman had been planning to auction the ring at a benefit dinner but had to change her plans after being diagnosed with skin cancer, Crumly said. "She contacted me and let me know she was dropping it into the kettle for us to use however we saw fit."

Florida officials said a $3,500 diamond ring was donated Dec. 20 outside a Publix in southwest Miami-Dade County.

The anonymous Mississippi donor wrote, "Perhaps there is a young man the Salvation Army knows of who wishes to marry, but being of modest income cannot afford a big diamond. If the young lady of his dreams is of good character, the size of the diamond doesn't count. True love is what really matters."

Contest entries will be accepted until midnight Jan. 1. People can enter for themselves or nominate someone else.

Volunteers will choose the winner, Sturdivant said.

The winning couple will be announced in mid-January and will receive a Valentine's Day dinner. Sturdivant thinks it would be a great time for a proposal.

Jessica Riddle said she and her mother, Sara Miller, were at the kettle outside the Biloxi Walmart when an older woman pushed in a big wad of paper late Nov. 29.

"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, the group's local development director. "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."

Sturdivant said, "Every time I tell the story, I get goose bumps, because now I'm anticipating such a great day for this individual to do this with his lovely wife and they'll live happily ever after."

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