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Pennies add up in giant kettle in Westmoreland

| Sunday, June 10, 2012, 6:54 p.m.

Lt. Bryan DeMichael of the Greensburg Salvation Army sat in a doctor's office waiting room Wednesday afternoon in anticipation of getting his broken finger examined.

DeMichael hurt his finger while unloading pennies from the "World's Largest Red Kettle," which the organization used for fundraising in addition to its 2010 Red Kettle Campaign.

Even with the broken finger -- and torn fingernail -- DeMichael was in good spirits. His unit of the Salvation Army exceeded its fundraising goal by $11,000 this holiday season, raising about $76,000 through the Red Kettle Campaign.

The kettle -- measured at 8 feet and 2 inches tall -- held donations of an estimated $14,000 worth of pennies, which brought the fundraising total to $90,000.

"This was just a fantastic season," DeMichael said. "The support we received from the community was just phenomenal."

DeMichael said the original goal was to fill the large kettle with pennies, which would have raised about $54,000. The money from the large kettle will support the emergency services the organization provides to city and Hempfield residents.

The organization sent small kettles out to local businesses on Nov. 1, which returned about $1,700 toward filling the large kettle, DeMichael said. A trip to Wendover Middle School added $1,500, while most of the $14,000 was raised on Dec. 18 at the Westmoreland Mall.

Last year, the Greensburg unit raised $65,000, which was down from the $71,000 it raised in 2008, DeMichael said. He said the organization has seen an uptick in fundraising since DeMichael and his wife, Laura, took over in 2008.

"Prior to that, the (Greensburg Salvation Army) was raising $35,000 to $40,000 a year," DeMichael said, adding that he wasn't sure of the reason that donations have increased.

DeMichael said about 1.4 million pennies are now in several dozen five-gallon buckets and are being counted by employees at the First Commonwealth Bank. Each bucket weighs about 150 to 200 pounds, he said.

While he still gets the occasional donor walking through the door with bags full of pennies -- money he said the organization will never turn down -- he is fine with not filling the large kettle with the 5.4 million pennies it can hold -- this year.

"When we sat down and looked at it, it was our first year doing it. Considering the majority of (donations) basically came in one day, I'd say $14,000 is pretty cool," DeMichael said. "We thought about making it a one-year thing, but we may bring it back next year.

"It's a true blessing to live and to be in a community where people care."

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