HALFWAY — The red plastic kettles that started appearing in Washington County on Monday are a symbol of The Salvation Army’s mission to serve others, said Amy Whittington, chairwoman of the local Salvation Army’s advisory board.
For some, the kettles and bell ringers are a cheery sign of the holiday season, Whittington told those gathered at the Valley Mall’s Food Court on Monday as The Salvation Army kicked off its holiday fundraising drive.
Others might see the kettles as an inconvenience or feel a twinge of guilt as they walk by and realize they have no cash in their pocket, said Whittington, admitting to the latter on occasion.
“But countless people see these kettles as a sign of hope. Hope that they might get assistance finding a job. Hope that they might find shelter and a safe place. Hope that they might provide a warm and nourishing meal to their children. Or simply hope for a better tomorrow,” Whittington said.
Whittington cited U.S. Census data, saying more than 18,000 people in Washington County are living below the poverty level.
Last year, The Salvation Army helped 1,361 families — 6,543 individuals with food and toys for the holiday season, both increases from 2009, said Maj. Robert Lyle of the nonprofit organization.
With the economy still lagging and many families still in need, The Salvation Army has raised its holiday fundraising goal by $5,000 to $220,000, Lyle said. To reach that goal, the group hopes to raise $90,000 through kettles, $100,000 through the mail campaign and $30,000 in drop-off donations.
The Salvation Army raised $208,000 during the previous holiday season, Lyle said.
In an annual tradition, the president of Hagerstown Kiwanis Club, Don Day, presented Lyle with a $1,000 donation to kick off this holiday season’s fundraising drive.
The Kiwanis, as well as members of other service organizations such as Rotary and Lions clubs, and the Hagerstown Exchange Club, also will help raise money by ringing bells at kettles in the county, officials said.
There are 16 kettle spots and two more on weekends, Lyle said. Bell ringers began the kettle drive Monday at every location except Walmart, where the kettle drive will begin Friday, Lyle said.
Other kettle spots are Ollie’s, Kmart, Sam’s Club, Big Lots, the post office in downtown Hagerstown, the post office on Leitersburg Pike, Long Meadow Shopping Center, Hagerstown Premium Outlets and Food Lion on North Pointe Drive, north of Hagerstown, Lyle said.
Last year, The Salvation Army distributed 19,670 toys, Lyle said.
To apply for food and toys at Christmas, Washington County families may call The Salvation Army office at 301-733-2440 before the end of November, Lyle said.
The Salvation Army and Toys for Tots partner in collecting toys for needy children in Washington County, with The Salvation Army distributing the toys, said Jim Mills, the local Toys for Tots coordinator.
So far, the Toys for Tots drive has the names of 1,500 children, down from about 2,600 at this time last year, said Mills, with the Marine Corps League’s Antietam detachment. Names of children, from families who cannot afford Christmas presents, will be taken until the week before toy distribution, which begins Dec. 20, he said. Call 301-733-2440.
The Salvation Army has angel trees at five locations this year. The trees are decorated with tags that feature the names of children and suggested toys. People can take the name of a child from the tree and buy a toy for the child, leaving both the tag and toy, unwrapped, at the tree for The Salvation Army to pick up, Lyle said.
The trees are at Valley Mall, in front of Macy’s; at Hagerstown Premium Outlets; at Walmart; at Cracker Barrel on Sharpsburg Pike; and at the Downsville General Store.
Valley Mall also has a train car near J.C. Penney, where people can drop off toys for the Toys for Tots drive, said Julie Rohm, the mall’s general manager.
Money raised from The Salvation Army’s annual holiday drive also helps pay for a Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas gifts given to nursing home residents, the soup kitchen, a food bank, and a 28-bed shelter for women and children in the county, Lyle said.
This year’s free holiday meal will be from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Wednesday at The Salvation Army’s annex at 541 George St. in Hagerstown’s West End.