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Kettle drive falls short

| Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, 12:02 a.m.
Lt. Susan Thwaite was checking the kettles at Walmart in file photo, on 12-08-12. Jim Ference | The Valley Independent

Days before Christmas, local donors claimed nearly all the tags on the angel tree at the Salvation Army in Monessen, a promise of Christmas gifts for needy families.

However, the tags for one area family went unclaimed.

“So we pulled some things together and gave them gifts,” explained Susan Thwaite, co-commanding officer of the Salvation Army's Mon Valley Citadel.

But two days after the deadline to turn in gifts bought for the tree's “angels,” one woman returned with a bounty of gifts — everything the large family had requested.

“I was able to call that family and have them come and pick up the specific items they asked for,” Thwaite said. “The mother was in tears and shared that her husband was a boilermaker who lost his job. For the first time, they weren't able provide Christmas for their kids.

“It was really nice how God worked that out. We did the best we could, but God superseded that.”

Meeting the needs was a goal the Mon Valley Citadel kept in view even during tough times.

The Mon Valley Citadel of the Salvation Army's kettle campaign fell about $9,000 short of its goal of $75,000. In contrast, the local Salvation Army raised a record $73,000 in 2011.

The Western Pennsylvania Division of the Salvation Army raised $2,553,893, missing the regional goal by $270,000, according to agency spokeswoman Ginny Knor.

“I think the economy is so bad people are not able to give as much as in the past,” said Thwaite.

“There are more people needing and less people having. We're seeing more people come in like we've never seen before.”

Still, the Salvation Army was able to serve many in the Mid-Mon Valley. Thwaite said the agency provided 400 food baskets to families and services for 738 children in 2012.

“It took a lot of effort to pull everything together,” Thwaite said. “But no one was shorted because of the people's generosity.”

Thwaite said despite the shortfall in donations, the agency was able to provide the same level of service. She said their efforts, especially at Christmas, were aided by Trib Total Media's Operation Santa Claus along with toys donated by The Valley Independent's Christmas Cheer Club.

Students and faculty at Rostraver Elementary School again stuffed a bus with toys. Fifteen service organizations bought toys to assist the Salvation Army.

“Christmas is when we see greatest increase in need,” Thwaite said. “But our food pantry now serves 120 families and we're seeing new families come in each month and ask for help.”

In addition, the food pantry out of Westmoreland County Food Bank, directed by Mayor Mary Jo Smith, serves more than 500 people.

The Salvation Army also coordinates visits to local nursing homes. Gifts were given to 475 people. Students in the Cal U athletic training program gathered gifts, wrapped gifts and helped deliver them.

“It was really nice to see the generations working together,” Thwaite said.

The Salvation Army's campaign stretches the fiscal year from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30. The kettle campaign, which operates in November and December, raises about one-third of the Army's roughly $300,000 budget.

“We are really grateful to the community that we are permitted to do this,” Thwaite said. “They bring in all of these toys. What we are able to accomplish in a two-month period, it's just a miracle.”

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or