The Salvation Army's 2012 Red Kettle Campaign is in full swing, with the familiar bell ringers manning kettle collection stations at stores throughout the Mid-Ohio Valley.
Salvation Army officials say the fundraiser is especially important for those in need this year.
Marietta's Salvation Army hopes to raise at least $50,000 through this year's local kettle campaign, according to Capt. Kathy Dorchak.
SAM SHAWVER The Marietta Times
Steelers fan Dennis Bahen of Beverly places a donation in the red kettle station manned by bell ringer Mary Harris at the Marietta Kmart Tuesday morning.
"A lot of people think the kettle campaign is just for Christmas, but it's really our major source of funding for the whole year," she said. "It's been a bit slow so far, but I think we'll do good this year."
And the need is great for the holidays this year, too, Dorchak said, noting the Salvation Army has picked up many families and individuals that received Christmas assistance from Washington-Morgan Community Action Agency in the past.
She said due to cuts in state funding the agency is not able to provide as much help as in previous years.
How to help
What: Salvation Army "Fill the Truck" new toys and coats drive for area children in need.
Where: Marietta Walmart on Pike Street.
When: Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Details: Participating shoppers will receive a list of suggested gifts to fill a collection bin at the store. Once the receptacle is full, the donations will be taken to the Salvation Army at 136 Front St. in Marietta where the gifts will be distributed to children in need in time for Christmas.
"We have approximately 200 families already signed up for Christmas assistance this year, and the requests are still coming in, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily-it's crazy," said Rebecca Place, social worker with the Salvation Army.
Place said the Salvation Army receives no state funding, and relies entirely on donations, which makes efforts like the kettle campaign and Angel Trees placed in area stores that much more important.
"And we try not to turn anyone away," she said.
The Angel Trees are trimmed with paper ornaments describing gifts requested by needy children from the local area. Shoppers can take an ornament or two and purchase the gifts which will be picked up and distributed by the Salvation Army.
"But we also provide food and help pay utility bills all year," Place said. "And we have at least four or five people weekly who come in needing somewhere to stay because they've been put out of their home."
She said that includes some homeless families.
"Some of these people have been sleeping in their cars," Place said. "So we may pay hotel bills to provide them with a place to stay."
The skies were threatening rain Tuesday morning as Rob Gilmore, 37, stood just outside the west entrance to the Marietta Walmart, ringing his bell and greeting everyone-donors and non-donors alike-with a "Merry Christmas" or "God bless you."
"I'm partially disabled due to my eyesight, so this is a seasonal job for me, but I really enjoy it, and it's for a very good cause," he said. "We probably receive most of our total donations through our stations at Walmart every year."
Although Tuesday's weather was a little wet, Gilmore, of Marietta, appreciated the warm temperatures, noting he's served on some much colder days.
"You have to plan ahead what you're going to wear-that's the biggest deal for bell ringers," he said. "And I always wear a comfortable pair of sneakers."
Gilmore also keeps a heavy coat handy in case the weather turns bad.
He said people have been generous this year, and many have told him how they've been helped by the Salvation Army in the past.
At the opposite Walmart entrance Chris Holder, 28, and Douglas Clark, 37, both of Marietta, were taking donations at another red kettle station. This is their first year serving as bell ringers.
"I think the best thing about this is that we're helping a lot of kids out at Christmas," Holder said. "I have a 4-year-old at home, so I know how much the Salvation Army helps."
"Sometimes we get exhausted or it's cold, but it's worth it when you see little kids dropping money into the kettle and saying 'Merry Christmas,'" he said. "And you meet a lot of nice people, especially veterans who like to stop and talk about some of their experiences."
Mary Harris, 66, of Marietta said she's been a bellringer for the Salvation Army off and on for many years.
"I started when I was 12 or 13 years old and rang the bells then so I could get some Christmas for my brother and sister," she said. "Now it's something I do mainly to get out of the house."
Unable to stand for long periods of time, Harris keeps a portable seat near her post at the Marietta Kmart, but said she loves being a bellringer.
"It makes me happy, and I know it's making a lot of little kids happy, too," she said.
When the weather turns icy, Harris said the key is to wear layers and layers of clothing.
"A couple of years ago it got pretty cold," she said. "The wind chill was below zero. So the stores let us stand just inside the doors during those times."
Across Pike Street at Kroger Marietta residents Brittany Daugherty, 17, and Dee Wheeler, 43, were manning the red kettle station.
"It's my first time as a bellringer-and it's harder than it looks-especially when it's cold," said Daugherty. "The first Saturday after Thanksgiving it was pretty cold here."
This is Wheeler's first year with the red kettle campaign, too.
"We're here for eight hours a day, but it's not too bad when there's someone here to help out," she said. "It gets a little tough when there's only one person at the station. But we have a lot of fun, too, and the people who donate are so nice. We always thank them, but sometimes they thank us, too, just for being here."