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Iconic Salvation Army kettles return to Alle-Kiski Valley

| Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, 12:42 a.m.
Kevin Bell, a Salvation Army of Allegheny Valley Corps senior soldier, stands by as Elaine Bushman, 9, of Harrison, drops coins in the Salvation Army kettle at Sam's Club at the Pittsburgh Mills shopping complex in Frazer on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2012. Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch

Some Salvation Army centers and representatives are bringing out their iconic Red Kettles at Alle-Kiski Valley stores a little early this year as they try to raise more money to satisfy growing demand.

The economy is forcing more people to seek help paying their bills and putting a holiday spread on the table and under the tree this year, Salvation Army officials say.

And the calendar is helping this year, with Thanksgiving falling on the earliest date possible. That means a few extra days that shoppers will presumably have the holiday spirit.

The Allegheny Valley branch of the Salvation Army really got a jump — it has had kettles out at stores at the Pittsburgh Mills for a few weeks as the demand for its services has risen.

“Times have changed. When the economy was doing well, we weren't serving as many people,” said Capt. Rickie Armour, captain of the Salvation Army of Allegheny Valley, which serves 10 ZIP codes from Fox Chapel to Harrison.

“We have new faces that we are seeing now,” he said. “These are people who never had to ask for anything before.”

Everything seems to be going up: Total people served by Allegheny Valley Salvation Army are up by nearly 35 percent from fiscal year 2010-11 to 2011-12, Armour said.

The organization has served more than 21,500 people so far this year — compared to 16,000 in all of last year, he said. That's an increase of 5,500 people already, or nearly 35 percent.

Services include rent aid and assistance for utilities, food, clothing and other needs.

Even use of Salvation Army recreation facilities like gyms and playgrounds is up by more than 150 percent for the same time period, he said.

Not surprisingly, the kettle campaign goal for Allegheny Valley is up to $150,000 this holiday season. That's up 20 percent from last year's goal of $125,000, which it reached.

“Our situation is dire,” Armour said. “We're close to turning away people. The needs are great. People need help paying for their utilities, electricity, heat and food.”

Others starting earlier, too

There are likely more Salvation Army reps starting early this year, according to Virginia Knor, Western Pennsylvania division spokeswoman.

Across its 26 county territory, the division's goal is $2.8 million, up 10 percent from $2.54 million last year.

Knor said that more than 100 kettles are out in Allegheny County, with a goal of $785,000.

As the Salvation Army has several configurations of workers and volunteers in service centers and service units, the choice of how much money and when to raise it is a local decision.

“Probably more people go out earlier than in the past if they have the ability to do so,” Knor said.

Kettles and bell ringers are out as early as Nov. 1 in some locations, she said.

“It depends on how much money needs to be raised and if the business community is amenable to going out that early,” she said. “We are at the mercy of the good will of the people who allow us to place the kettles.”

Raising money to meet demand, which has risen by about 20 percent in the past three years, for Salvation Army services has been “extremely difficult,” according to Knor.

“The amount of clients has been growing exponentially because of the economic downturn,” she said.

The region's Salvation Army has been meeting its kettle campaign goals as a whole over the last several years. But it's been tight.

“We don't know until Christmas Eve on how we are doing,” she said.

While demand for services is up, some Salvation Army units and representatives are sticking to the same holiday schedule, looking for and taking their best shots at fundraising opportunities.

Kittanning will start on Friday

The Kittanning Salvation Army Worship and Service Center will kick off its kettle campaign on Friday to coincide with Light-Up Kittanning Night, according to Lt. Amber Imhoff.

“Our plan is to make people aware,” she said. “And we're firm believers that an extra day won't help us as much as when people know what we need.

“And light-up night is the biggest event in our town as it draws thousands of people to downtown Kittanning.”

Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or mthomas@tribweb.com.

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