With Christmas on the horizon, those familiar red kettles will soon be popping up with Salvation Army volunteers jingling bells for donations “to help as many people as we can for as long as we can,” says Maj. Dean Towne, corps officer of the Independence Salvation Army Crossroads Shelter.

Although a “certain amount of money” is budgeted each year at Christmastime, “We never know how the Christmas campaign is going to go,” he says. “We pray that amount of money will come in. We know God will provide for us. So every year we pray that our goal is what we need the most and that people will help by giving us money. But I can't worry about it. We just do the very best we can do to raise the bucks.”

Regardless of the amount collected in the 26 red kettles spread across Independence, Blue Springs and Oak Grove, every coin is important and adds up, Towne says, noting the kettles last year raised just shy of $220,000, and $100,000 of that amount was in coins.

Missing last year's goal by $25,000 was a “big hit for us because we couldn't help as many families as we wanted to. You only have so much money, and when it's gone, it's gone, he explains. “Our kettle goal is simply what goes into the kettles.”

Although kettles won't be set out until Nov. 10, The Salvation Army will officially kick off the Red Kettle season of bell ringing with its 5th annual Red Kettle Luncheon at 11:30 a.m. on Nov. 2 at the Hilton Garden Inn. Proceeds will benefit The Salvation Army Crossroads Shelter on Truman Road.

The Crossroads shelter is the only emergency shelter in Eastern Jackson County providing temporary housing to families who find themselves homeless and need assistance.

“Families are allowed to stay 60 days, and during that time we work with them and try to find them shelter where they can go and live once they get out of the shelter,” Towne explains. “While at the shelter, they not only receive counseling, but they receive three meals a day, seven days a week.”

How important is the Salvation Army's Christmas campaign?

“It's very important to us because it gives us funds to use throughout the year to help other people in the community and it gives us a presence in the community, because we have people in stores ringing bells and getting the word out that way.”

With all the programs the Salvation Army provides this time of the year, Towne says that when we talk about such programs as adopting a family for Christmas, the Toy Shop and the Angel Tree, these are the programs that really helps a lot of needy people.

As far as bell-ringing and Christmas campaigns, this year's bell-ringing goal is $240,000, which Towne says will be used throughout the year for a lot of different programs, but primarily for direct assistance, not only at Christmas, but also throughout the rest of the fiscal year, starting in January.

Says Towne, “The money is used for such programs as our special service program where we help people with their rent, utilities, food, so it is a very important time for us because it is a large sum of money we need.

Another major need for a successful bell-ringing program is for more bell ringers to help man the Red Kettles in the local jurisdiction.

“We can always use more volunteers to prevent a shortage,” the major says, explaining he wants to have someone at the kettle site because “you never know how much money is going to come in.” In addition, “For some of our paid bell ringers, there are some who do it every year, and it gives them money for Christmas so they can help their own families. So there are a lot of reasons we do it. We want to raise money and we want to help the individual ringing the bell for us.

Taking people through the Toy Shop, helping to make Christmas distributions to some 600 needy families in our area and driving a truck to pick up items in the morning are other volunteering opportunities .

In summary, “I guess it's important for people to understand that what we try to do is help other people move along and get better in life. And we do that through a lot of programs,” Towne says. “So anyway anyone can help us either by a financial donation or by volunteering. With the Christmas season coming up, just don't walk by the kettles. Stop and put something in the kettles and it will go a long way to help us fulfill our goals.


-- Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.