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The Salvation Army still needs your help

Date: 12/14/2009

By Debbie Gardner

Assistant Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD - Sometimes people stopped as they were heading in. Most times though, they came up to me as they were leaving. Some even walked away a few steps, paused, and came back.

There were those who dropped just a few coins in my kettle. Others emptied a change purse. One man chased a bag full of pennies around and around the lid until every one dropped down the slot.

But mostly people paused, opened their wallets and took out a dollar - or sometimes two - folded the bills neatly and stuffed them down the slot.

I thanked every one, wishing them a "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays." Some returned the greeting. A couple thanked me back.

Most just smiled and moved on.

As my shift manning a kettle for the Salvation Army at the Boston Road Wal-Mart last Thursday drew to a close, I marveled at the number of generous people I'd just encountered.

My last few donors could barely stuff their contributions into the slot in my kettle. And all I'd had to do was smile ... and ring a bell.

"I think our community is willing to express support [for our mission] but if we don't have the people [available to man our kettles], they just move on," Major Thomas Perks, commanding officer for the Springfield corps had told me when I called on Dec. 7 to ask about manning a kettle.

He said the Salvation Army was experiencing a shortage of kettle volunteers this year and because of this lack of help, the Springfield corps's drive was "down about $2,400 from last year," for the same time period.

The Salvation Army's goal for this year is to raise $62,000 to provide help to "over 5,000 families and 16,000 children" in the towns of Longmeadow, East Longmeadow, Wilbraham, Ludlow, West Springfield, Agawam and the cities of Springfield and Chicopee.

Last year's kettle campaign raised $57,000 and served approximately 5,000 families.

The monies raised provide services at the holidays and help support the Salvation Army's other missions, including a student tutoring program, a teen first offender plan that can lead to the expunging of an offender's record, a family reading program, a summer literacy program and a teen recreation program.

"It's ambitious, but we're sure the community will do everything they can [to support us]," Perks said of this year's goal.

Among the ways that the public can help, he said, is to volunteer to man one of the corps' 10 donation kettles, as I had.

"We have three at Eastfield Mall, one at the Wal-Mart and locations at the Stop & Shop [supermarkets] around the area," Perks said. "Also this year, we have partnered with the city's new basketball team, the Springfield Armor, which has allowed us to have kettles inside the MassMutual Center at all home games [in December]."

Most volunteers stand a "two to three hour" shift, Perks said, "but for folks who aren't able to stand outside ... we still have opportunities for them to help out inside."

Kettle volunteers are needed right though Christmas Eve, when the bells go silent for this donation drive at 4 p.m. To donate your time to the Springfield corps of the Salvation Army this holiday season, contact Capt. Kip Allen at 733-1518.