The mysterious do-gooder who drops $1,000 in Salvation Army red kettles has returned.

For the first time this season, the generous anonymous donor — or donors — that the Salvation Army has dubbed St. Grand the past two years left the first donation at a Roseville Byerly's on Friday.

"Whoever it is, it ends up being an amazing thing and a wonderful gift," Salvation Army spokeswoman Annette Bauer said Saturday.

The organization's leaders were unsure whether the secretive donor, who typically drops 10 crisp, new $100 bills, would make an appearance again this year after already giving $45,000 the past two years, she said. And just when the nonprofit was reporting a 25 percent lag in donations this year, St. Grand reappeared.

"It really doesn't matter if this is one person or multiple people," Twin Cities Salvation Army Cmdr. Maj. Jeff Strickler said in a statement. "It has become legendary for us — an example of selfless giving without recognition."

While Strickler said the organization is grateful for the spare change and dollar bills that most people give to the red kettle campaign, it's also exciting for bell ringers to find St. Grand's "little bundles of joy."

The mystery continues

St. Grand's secretive holiday cheer leaves no clues behind. No note, just 10 $100 bills folded together, stuffed into a red kettle starting in the north metro around Roseville or Shoreview, and then sprinkling them elsewhere in the metro area again and again throughout the holiday season.

In 2011, St. Grand dropped $1,000 into each of 23 Salvation Army kettles around the Twin Cities and one outside the metro. Another $22,000 was given by St. Grand in 2012, with four of the $1,000 donations going to greater Minnesota.

"That's a lot to give without any tax deduction," Bauer said. "It's so secretive."

For years, the charity has received major donations that are anonymous, but they're usually written with a check. Then, for a few years, "Santa Claus" donated his Social Security payments, but eventually, the man came forward, Bauer said. The charity wonders whether St. Grand may someday do the same.

The farthest the $1,000 donations have been received were in Morris and International Falls, leaving Bauer to speculate whether St. Grand has taken a trip or whether others are emulating the mysterious donations.

"We believe a vast majority is one person," she said. "Somewhere out there a bank teller knows."

Behind in donations

In the Twin Cities, the Salvation Army aims to raise $10.8 million this year between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31 through the red kettle campaign and online or mail-in donations. Bauer said the money raised in November and December makes up about a third of the organization's annual donations, supporting programs such as after-school kids' programs, shelter meals and donated clothing for 240,000 Twin Cities residents. So far this year, $700,000 has been collected — behind their goal of reaching $1 million by now.

"We're hoping to catch up," Bauer said.

And if St. Grand's past generosity is any indication, they certainly will be closer to it.

"It's become something to look forward to," she said. "It's really such a pick-me-up for the bell ringer who finds it. They're volunteers working long hours, and it's really exciting for them."

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141