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Salvation Army readies its kettle drive

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HANCOCK COUNTY — During the next five weeks, the Salvation Army of Hancock County will need hundreds of volunteers to dedicate nearly 2,000 hours to a familiar post – bell ringer.

The local branch of the national nonprofit is getting ready to kick off its signature Red Kettle Campaign, where people moved by the spirit of the season drop pocket change and loose dollar bills into collection buckets outside area grocery stores.

In Hancock County, volunteers at the six kettles at four locations throughout the county have a simple job: man the kettle, ring the bell and thank donors.

“A friendly face, a smile and a thank you is more than enough,” said volunteer coordinator Dave Medved of his expectations for volunteers.

Each November, Salvation Army board members begin the process of soliciting volunteer help from area churches, service groups, businesses and individuals to fill the hundreds of spots available. The campaign has grown over the past several years, meaning there’s a potential to raise more money but also a need for even more volunteers.

Jim Peters, Hancock County’s chairman, said spots inevitably go unfilled each year. While kettles can be unmanned, it’s not just the risk of leaving donations unattended that make volunteers so necessary. Peters said donations are much higher when a bell ringer is present.

“We get probably three times as much income with someone actually there and ringing the bell,” he said.

That extra income will be important for the group this year, which has set a goal to collect $45,000 over the five-week campaign.

It’s a jump over last year’s record-breaking campaign, which raised contributions just short of $40,000.

All of the money raised during the Red Kettle Campaign stays in Hancock County and is used throughout the year to give emergency financial assistance to residents struggling to pay for rent, utilities, groceries, medical and other expenses. The organization has a local representative, who keeps an office at Brandywine Community Church, to distribute the funds.

Peters said the money collected is budgeted throughout the year, and there have been several months in 2012 that money has run out. By setting a higher goal, he hopes the group can meet even more needs in 2013.

“Most months, we were able to (meet needs),” Peters said, “but that doesn’t mean there aren’t others we could serve if we had more funds.”

More often than not, donations come in the form of spare change dug from the bottom of a purse or a pocket. But bigger donations have been known to happen. Last year, an anonymous donor deposited a diamond worth more than $200 into one kettle.

The success of last year’s campaign was due in part, Peters said, to the fact that was the first year Hancock County’s Salvation Army had kettles in place the week before Thanksgiving. The move to extend collections was more successful than organizers could have hoped: it was the organization’s second-best week.

Second, he said, only to the week before Christmas. Donations during the last week of bell ringing, the week leading up to Christmas, are almost double that of the other weeks Medved said.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “It has renewed my faith in humanity because of all the good, all the generosity.”

Last year was also the first time a kettle was placed outside of Greenfield. Donations will be taken at the Marsh store in New Palestine again this year, along with Wal-Mart, Marsh and Kroger stores in Greenfield.

Adding extra hours and locations helps increase donation totals but also requires more volunteers. Filling more than 900 two-hour shifts is no easy feat, said Medved.

“We’ll look under every nook and cranny (for volunteers),” he joked.

To volunteer for a two-hour shift of bell ringing at any of the four locations, call Jim Peters at (317) 372-2304.

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