As holiday music filled the air at Hamilton Place mall Friday night, four small children waded through the crowd to drop money into the Salvation Army Red Kettle just moments before the official kickoff of the organization's Christmas campaign.
Staff File Photo by Allison Kwesell/Chattanooga Times Free Press Salvation Army bell ringer Larry Vanderhoff takes a short break from ringing his bell at the Kmart in Bradley Square Mall in Cleveland, Tenn. Vanderhoff volunteers with his wife and has been doing so for five years, he says his wife has been volunteering for six.
Five-year-old Abigail Robinson, of East Brainerd, was one of the children who dropped money into the bucket. Her mother, Amy Robinson, said, "I think it's important for them to know at an early age that not all people have the same things she does."
Robinson's friend, Shannon Wilson, was visiting from South Carolina with her three children, who also donated.
Wilson said that while her family helps charities throughout the year, it's important for her children to know that the holiday season isn't just about gifts and toys.
She said she hopes her children will continue giving as they grow up.
"I think it's important for them to give back," Wilson said.
Friday marked the first day of the Red Kettle Campaign for the Salvation Army.
Area commander Maj. Beverly Lawrence said there is more of a need this year for help than in years past.
The Salvation Army has begun taking applications for its Angel Trees. Paper ornaments on the trees have information about a child or senior who needs help on Christmas. In the first six days, Lawrence said, the organization has received nearly 2,000 names. The organization will accept applications for four more days.
"We've had more first-timers this year due to the economy and layoffs," Lawrence said. "When in need, they turn to us."
Salvation Army Advisory Board Chairman Carrington Montague said last year the Chattanooga Salvation Army raised nearly $356,000 in the Red Kettle Campaign and served more than 125,000 meals. He added the group provided more than 44,000 nights of lodging to people who wouldn't have a place to stay otherwise.
"We've seen a 10 to 15 percent increase in donations," Montague said. "However, our need has increased by 30 percent."
Salvation Army Director of Development Kimberly George said bell ringers will be at 50 locations in the Chattanooga area, and Angel Trees are at Hamilton Place and Northgate malls in Chattanooga as well as Bradley Square Mall in Cleveland, Tenn., and Walnut Square Mall in Dalton, Ga.
Lawrence said monetary donations can be made at any kettle location. Those who cannot give money are welcome to volunteer their time.
"Hands and hearts are just as important as money," Lawrence said.
Contact staff writer Jeremy Belk at email@example.com or 423-757-6345.