Bells ringing as Centre County’s Red Kettle Campaign begins

Santa’s sleigh isn’t the only shiny, red symbol of the holidays area residents will see this season.

The State College Corps of the Salvation Army bell ringers now are at area businesses to collect donations in the recognizable red kettles.

Approximately 90 percent of the funds raised are used to help people in Centre County. Much of the money supports the Salvation Army’s Christmas programs, and is also used for needs such as heating and rent assistance, and food or medical emergencies.

“There are tons of different things the money goes to,” said regional manager Steve Williams. “But if we don’t have the funds, we can’t do it.”

Last year, the local kettle campaign raised about $80,000, which Williams said sounds like a lot, but it goes fast. He said community support makes the kettle campaign and fundraising possible.

“Our donor base is phenomenal,” he said.

And there may still be opportunities for people to help ring bells at the State College area Walmart locations, Macy’s at the Nittany Mall and other area spots. In mid-November, Williams had 531 of about 1,400 kettle hours scheduled.

While the campaign kicked off Friday, interested volunteers still can sign up online — www.centrecountybellringing.org — to work the kettles. The bells will ring through Christmas Eve.

“It’s a huge undertaking,” Williams said. “We can always use volunteers.”

And people also can help online, by creating a red kettle team at www.onlineredkettle.org. That program collects credit card donations through the website and raised about $4,000 dollars locally last year.

“It’s a very unique fund-raising opportunity,” Williams said. “Folks say, ‘I can only raise $100.’ That $100 can make a lifetime of difference to someone. We don’t have to have big goals.”

Organizations and individuals can participate. Williams said many church groups sign up and area businesses can volunteer to work the kettles for a day.

Williams said he could talk all day about the program, noting there are many memorable stories from his 12 years of experience with the Red Kettle campaign.

He remembered a mother and her teenage son approaching a kettle last year and the young man depositing a handfull of change. He had previously lived in a Salvation Army home and said he wanted to contribute to the organization every time he saw a red kettle.

“Veterans come up and say, ‘The Salvation Army was there for me,’” he said. “It is the signature program of the Army.”

And the community responds.

Williams said he started receiving phone calls in September from people who wanted to sign up to ring bells.

“This time of year, everybody’s life is so hectic, but they still find the time to help us,” he said.

“They’re not so much helping the Salvation Army as helping their neighbors.”