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The Poverello Center in downtown Missoula. 

The largest anonymous gift the Poverello Center has received walked through the front door on Monday.

A silver-haired cowboy, wearing a proud, broad hat and shiny belt buckle, stepped into the homeless shelter on Ryman Street and presented case manager George Scherger with a $5,000 cashier's check. He insisted the donation remain anonymous.

Beyond the check, all the cowboy left was his encouragement and thanks. "Please tell the folks to keep doing what you do," he told Scherger.

Ten years ago, the cowboy said, he'd been helped in some way by the center. He didn't say how and he didn't say why. Then he walked away.

"It's quite a statement. It's just cool for anybody who does the work we do," Poverello Center director Ellie Hill said Tuesday. "I mean, wow, a real Montana cowboy saying we made a difference."

The Poverello gets cards and letters almost every day, from former clients all over the country who have survived all kinds of situations and been aided by the center, Hill said.

"Generally though, it's 20 bucks or five bucks," she said.

The cowboy's anonymous gift will help pay day-to-day expenses, like covering utility bills and supplies at the center's soup kitchen.

The folks at the shelter may never know who the cowboy was.

And no matter what the Poverello gave him all those years ago, his gift returned much more.

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