A little red kettle outside a Twin Cities grocery store received a big dose of generosity Saturday when someone slipped into it a $200,000 check made out to the Salvation Army.

The check provided a much-needed boost for the faith-based charity, as donations to its annual Christmas campaign had been running about 10 percent behind last year's numbers, said spokeswoman Julie Borgen. The $200,000 check alone shrank that gap to 7 percent, she said.

"We were stunned and thrilled to have received such a large donation," said Lt. Col. Lonneal Richardson, leader of the Army's Northern Division. "This gift comes at a critical time for the Salvation Army."

The donor called the division's headquarters in Roseville on Saturday morning and alerted staff "that he intended to put a large check in a red kettle and know to look for it and it was legitimate," Borgen said.

The donor explained, Borgen said, that he made the large gift "to inspire other people to give as much as they can." He wished to remain anonymous, which is why the Salvation Army was not being more specific about where the well-fed kettle was located, she said.

Later that day, the check landed as advertised outside a Cub Foods store in the south metro. And no, it didn't bounce, she said.

Not only have donations been running behind as the end of the campaign comes into view this weekend, there are concerns that a winter storm forecast for later in the week could further hurt totals.

In 2015, a $500,000 check was dropped in a Salvation Army kettle outside the Cub Foods in Rosemount on County Road 42, just east of Shannon Parkway. The couple behind that donation also gave the gift with the understanding of remaining anonymous.

Over the years around the Twin Cities, wads of cash totaling $1,000 or more have been anonymously slipped into red kettles. The Salvation Army credits a person it has dubbed "St. Grand" for the donations but hasn't ruled out that more than one person was behind the annual four-figure drops.

So far this season, Borgen said, "St. Grand" has come through with one $1,200 donation and a few of $1,300.

A symbol of the holiday season, the red kettles date back to 1891 when Salvation Army Capt. Joseph McFee set out a pot to raise money for a Christmas meal for a thousand poor people in San Francisco and Oakland.

The Twin Cities Salvation Army was founded in 1886, and Borgen said she believed that red kettles have been used in Minnesota for more than a century. More than 500 are put out around the metro area.

The Twin Cities Salvation Army aims to raise $11.7 million by the end of the year, including $2.6 million from the kettles. The charity serves 155,000 people, providing 1,100 hot meals daily and sheltering more than 600 every night.

paul.walsh@startribune.com 612-673-4482

shannon.prather@startribune.com 612-673-4804