By LAURA EASTES
• Leader & Times
The echoing of jingle bells could be heard from every corner of the Liberal Dillons’ parking lot Wednesday afternoon. But the noise was not from Santa Claus’ sleigh.
The jingle bells were being rung by 17-year-old Justin Volden adorned with a set of reindeer ears, red apron and gloves. He was jingling in hopes of coins clanging and collecting into a Salvation Army Christmas kettle.
“I am volunteering because it goes to help people in need,” Volden said. “It’s going pretty good today, but it is cold.”
The Liberal High School student is one of many to volunteer their time this holiday season to monitor one of the thousand red kettles across the nation stationed in front of retail stores in The Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Christmas Campaign, a 119-year tradition to raise money for those in need.
With less than 10 days until the Christmas holiday, the red kettle campaign is in full swing in hopes to raise more than $139 million in kettles nationwide and locally raise $8,000 in Liberal kettles stationed at Dillons, Wal-Mart and Spencer Browne’s Coffee House.
For communities like Liberal without a Salvation Army church or mission, the Salvation Army has teamed up with a local non-proft organization to help administer funds collected locally.
“Eighty percent of all the money that goes into the kettles and the insertions in the newspaper, goes and stays right there in the community,” Brian Carroll, service extension director for The Salvation Army Kansas, said. “It could go to help families make rent, pay utilites, and possibly, with prescriptions. We have many different options. Our partner in Liberal is the United Methodist Mexican-American Ministires. We work with them as a great partner. They help us by utilitzing the funds we raise for local use.”
United Methodist Mexican-American Ministries is a non-profit organization with locations throughout Western Kansas offering an array of social, spiritual, educational and medical programs to families in need.
The red kettle campaign helps the army serve more than 4 million people nationwide in need during the Christmas season and nearly 30 million individuals year-round.
Media reports have speculated if the Salvation Army would not reach its goal across the nation as donations have dropped compared to last year. Cities across the nation and some in Kansas have reported a drop in giving. Some speculate the economy has played a factor for the lag in giving.
In El Dorado, Butler County Salvation Army Capt. Charles Pinkston reports having collected 51 percent of the $60,000 goal with two weeks left to go.
According to Maj. Charles Smith, divisional commander of The Salvation Army Kansas City, donations are down 15 percent from this time last year.
For Liberal, no counting takes place until after Dec. 24, so there is no way to determine where Liberal donations stand currently, Carroll said.
“We are hoping donations are up a bit this year,” Carroll said. “We have seen a 5-to-7 percent increase of people in need this year. Hopefully, we have the funds to cover them. We try to be good stewards with the funds given to us.”
The Salvation Army’s 2010 Red Kettle Campaign ends Christmas Eve, however the organization will accept donations through Jan. 15. To make a credit card donation, call 1-800-Sal-Army. While making a donation mention Seward County for the funds to benefit locals.
“Whatever is rasied there, works there,” Carroll said. “The more money we collect, the more we can serve. That is the primary thing. Eighty percent of the Salvation Army’s funding for the entire year comes from these little red kettles. We aren’t out there in June and July ringing the bells.”
While Volden admits ringing the bell in the summer may have weather advantages, the experience is a true joy during the holidays. As people place change or a few dollars into the kettle, Volden says with a smile, “have a happy Christmas and thank you.”
“Some people just put some spare change in,” Volden said. “It adds up. The kettle collects about $70 per day.”