By Konstantine Fekos
Does the color red ring a bell? Volunteers will, starting this weekend.
The cry has gone out for more bell ringers as the season of giving approaches and the Salvation Army breaks out the traditional red kettles, finding new ways to help struggling citizens and families who have pantry supplies running low while local needs continue to grow.
The multi-faceted Kettle Drive is already on its way to supporting the greater Meadville community with the help of area businesses and organizations — and, they hope, readers like you — according to Howard Crow, local kettle coordinator and Salvation Army volunteer.
“Based on the current level of need, we’re hoping to service almost two times the number of people we did last year,” he said.
Bell ringers are set to sound off with their kettles at The Boot Box in Meadville this Friday and Saturday, and later on at Tops and Valesky’s grocery stores on Monday.
Other locations expected to participate include Wal-Mart, Kmart, Peebles, Big Lots, Walgreens, Tractor Supply and the Meadville Post Office, which will assist in the drive efforts next week through Dec. 24.
“We’re also looking for groups, organizations and individuals who may not have volunteered yet, to establish new relationships,” said Crow. “We’re constantly having to exchange full kettles mid-day for fresh ones, and we’re very fortunate to do so.”
In most cases, shifts run from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Volunteers can split shifts at the 3 p.m. mark for either morning or evening rings.
“Some people run the entire shift,” Crow said. “We’ve got die-hard people out there.”
Meadville resident Phil Robertson has only lived in the area for about three months, but has carried his tradition of Salvation Army volunteerism from eastern Pennsylvania.
“The Salvation Army does so much for so many people,” he said. “It’s something I enjoy doing. I believe we should help others and lead by example.”
Last year’s Meadville area kettle contributions totaled more than $55,000, up about $10,000 from the prior year, and went to assist almost 6,400 individuals in the Meadville area.
“The increase is exponential and keeps amassing itself with unemployment and things like that,” Crow said.
This year, Salvation Army representatives are hoping to reach $65,000 to meet the needs of more than 11,000 people struggling with the current economy.
“People are hurting,” said Captain Robin Holmes, corps officer and pastor. “We’re continually seeing new people, some of which were always donors; people like you and me who just got laid off or faced other challenges. It’s sad, it really is, but it’s reality.”
The number of individuals requiring energy and transportation assistance has also risen, totaling 231 and 91, respectively, in 2012, up last year from 181 and 51. Grocery items provided to families and individuals in need increased more than 5,000.
Fortunately, the number of volunteers has increased with each year to help stave off the rising tides of economic crisis for local families and individuals.
Bell ringers came by the dozens in 2011, reaching close to 70 overall, said Crow, whose goal is to offer even more to the community he feels is responding so well.
“We usually have no problem filling slots; we just need to fill them and this is the time to do it,” said Crow. “The biggest thing is getting the information out for new bell ringers to volunteer.”
Many ways to help
The Kettle Drive funds the majority of the Salvation Army’s fiscal year, while Christmas assistance relies more heavily on direct donations, all part of the fundraising program which also includes Treasures for Children, through which Salvation Army partners adopt one child, multiple children or an entire family for whom they will purchase clothing and toys.
“Last year was a very generous year and the children benefited greatly from it,” said Holmes. “It all depends on the generosity of the community, and Meadville is the most generous community I’ve ever lived in.”
Crow mentioned planning for small can kettles to sit on checkout counters in some participating stores, as well as housing some bell ringers, mainly older participants, indoors.
The Salvation Army is not only counting on the city’s generosity, but also the residents’ technological capabilities as it unfolds one of its most recent donation innovations: virtual kettles at onlineredkettle.org.
“Online kettles are accessible from our website and can be used individually, with a group or business and with families for multiple donations,” said Crow. “The national office will also have a virtual kettle contest for various prizes.”
In terms of local businesses, Crow has personally gone door to door around the area, seeking sponsorships and, of course, bell ringers.
“Most groups and organizations deliver bell-ringing assistance for the Kettle Drive,” he said. “We’ve had many outside groups interested as well, some as far as Erie.”
The Salvation Army doesn’t have to look too far for volunteer assistance, however. Aside from profit and nonprofit organizations, the Kettle Drive also gets a lot of its helping hands from area schools.
“The Meadville Area Senior High School National Honor Society really stepped up last year,” said Holmes. “Those students easily covered over 100 hours of kettle time. We’ve also gotten a great response from Allegheny College.”
Certificates of appreciation and thanks are often given in return for community service hours well spent.
“This town is so generous and continually so,” said Crow. “Whether it’s time or money, volunteers just give and give and give.”
YOU CAN HELP
Last year, the Meadville area’s Salvation Army Kettle Drive totaled more than $55,000, up about $10,000 from the prior year, and went to assist almost 6,400 individuals in the Meadville area. This year’s goal is $65,000.
- For more information or to donate: Visit Salvation Army, 1087 Park Ave., Meadville, or call (814) 724-3738 and ask for a self-addressed envelope. Visit onlineredkettle.org
- To volunteer: Call Howard Crow at (814) 795-4496.