Salvation needs help to ring in holiday spirit

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WALLA WALLA -- The Salvation Army is ringing the bell for help in providing Christmas spirit to area families.

In 2008, the organization provided food and toys for about 350 families, a nearly 40 percent increase over the year before, noted Tomas Gonzalez, ministry coordinator.

To continue to do the same, the agency will need an infusion of volunteers. A kettleful, in fact.

Two seasons ago, the Salvation Army reduced administrative expenses by going from a paid crew of seasonal bell ringers to a volunteer force. The organization's tradition of raising money through bell ringers planted at store entrances next to the red kettles is considered the oldest annual charitable fundraiser of its kind in the United States.

The new way to fill the pot is suffering growing pains, however, and that is changing what the Salvation Army can do to assist families.

"We're trying to do it all volunteer, meaning we have more funds available," said retired Salvation Army Maj. William Dickinson, who is helping the Walla Walla office this season. "We used to like to supply seasonal work, but by the time you pay Social Security tax and Workman's Compensation tax..."

With a payroll to deal with, much of the kettle money went to the government and less went to the families donors intended to help.

Under the all-volunteer force, however, it takes time to grow the work force, Dickinson said. "It has worked well in other locations, but it takes several years to get that volunteer base."

It doesn't help matters that last year the Walla Walla office got hit hard by the numbers of folks seeking a shot at having a Christmas for their families. It left no reserves, he added.

In addition to bell ringers, the Salvation Army needs toys for kids up to 14 years old and a place to put them. It is seeking a 5,000-square-foot facility with ample parking to store toys and distribute them.

And without a mall to put up the traditional Angel Tree -- which bore tags printed with children's information and their wishes -- the Salvation Army needs those willing to step up to adopt a family. That means providing gifts and supplies for Christmas dinner, Gonzalez said.

Some rescue has come from local fire districts and support from high school students who have come forward to help with various jobs, Dickinson said.

Financial donations are always welcome, the men said.

For more information, visit 827 W. Alder St. or call 529-9470.

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