Jumping right in there with Black Friday as the unofficial start of the holiday season, the Salvation Army’s bell ringers made their debut Monday, kicking off a traditional fundraising campaign familiar to all.
Volunteer bell ringers will man the red kettles at 10 locations throughout the Shenango Valley, hoping to meet or exceed a $65,000 goal, said Capt. Scott Flanders, who mans the kettles a couple of hours each week, just so he doesn’t “lose the connection to it.”
The Salvation Army, he said, is a church, loosely based on a Methodist theology, but one less tied to dogma and liturgy than most. “We’re a church that is more about doing,” the 45-year-old commander of the Sharon Salvation Army on Fisher Hill.
The money raised in the four-week kettle drive goes to fund several of the organization’s programs that help those in need, but especially, he said, for meals at this time of year.
“Every year we place over 100,000 grocery orders. That’s people who come in and need some kind of assistance. Thank God for the Community Food Warehouse of the Shenango Valley. They’re a huge help to us,” he said.
On Thursday, the Salvation Army will host a Thanksgiving dinner for about 850 people, some of whom will come there to eat and others whose meals will be delivered by volunteers.
The money raised during the Christmas season is also used to send 67 children to summer camp in Ellwood City, an experience, Flanders said, that is “simply incredible.”
“When you see how sending those children to camp changes them and their reaction to it, it’s indescribable,” he added.
Part of the money funds a senior citizen program held every Friday for between 80 and 120 seniors. Breakfast and lunch are served, along with informational programs and activities.