In this December 2016 file photo, YWCA members volunteered to ring the bell for the Salvation Army Red Kettle campaign. (DHI Media/File Photo)
In this December 2016 file photo, YWCA members volunteered to ring the bell for the Salvation Army Red Kettle campaign. (DHI Media/File Photo)

VAN WERT – Each holiday season many traditions make their way back around. For some, tradition means getting the family together for a giant Thanksgiving meal. For others, it means decorating the house with lights for Christmas, but for the Salvation Army, it means getting the red kettles out and serving the community.

Each year the Salvation Army gears up for the holidays in several different ways. Perhaps the largest way is by collecting money through the red kettles which help the organization provide services throughout the year.

“The bell ringing operation funds us for the entire year, so if we have a bad Christmas season ringing the bell, we have a bad year that year,” said Lt. Josh Morales who heads up the red kettle event. “It’s directly correlated.”

Last year Van Wert’s Salvation Army raised $56,000 with a goal of $40,000. This year’s goal is $50,000 which Morales believes the organization can raise by acquiring more volunteers rather than hiring bell ringers.

“A lot of people don’t know that we do have to hire bell ringers,” said Morales. “We don’t want to, but we have to because we don’t have enough volunteers.”

Having someone to ring the bell is better than having no one said Morales.

Morales said that the funds raised go toward the food pantry and assisting those in need. He gave an example and noted that if someone’s heat is turned off in colder months, the Salvation Army can help them if funds are available.

The Salvation Army will have seven stands that ring Monday through Saturday. Bell ringing for most of the locations begins on Nov. 16 and ends on Dec. 23. The locations at Walmart and Chief will have stands beginning Nov. 24.

“The work that our volunteers do directly impacts what we do,” said Morales. “It directly impacts the community; it directly impacts the families that come to us for food. It’s a very big deal.”

The Salvation Army also provides families with both a holiday meal and toys for children. Last year the organization helped 232 families with 446 children have a Christmas.

Lt. Josh Brookman who leads the food and toy project noted providing this service gives families a chance to celebrate the season without worry.

“It’s important for the kids because this is the time of the year where people are getting things for Christmas,” said Brookman. “For kids to get left out of that, it can really hurt their feelings.”

Morales added that most of the time the kids have no idea that their parents are getting the toys from the Salvation Army, which is just they way the organization likes it.

“It’s a pride thing for the parents,” said Morales. “The kids are able to get what they want but it’s from their parents. Their parents are the only ones that know, but it’s very important for us to pass out those toys.”

Morales said that the memories that kids gain during Christmastime with their families can last a lifetime. He also spoke about the generosity of the community and more ways people can be involved.

“People are very generous,” added Morales. “We encourage people to not be shy and to come on out to see if they apply to sign up for us because it’s a way to provide Christmas to families, but we also are looking for people that will sponsor a family or that will donate so we can help.”

Families in need are encouraged to fill out applications if they feel they may qualify for assistance. Doners can drop off new toys only to the Salvation Army during regular business hours. Morales urged people to not leave toys outside because they will likely be gone before the Salvation Army staff can get to them.

Distribution day is Dec. 19, but volunteers will be packing food boxes the night before and will be organizing toys during the month of December leading up to the distribution.

The Salvation Army also offers winter coats, hats, and gloves to those in need.

In addition to the holiday assistance and bell ringing, the Salvation Army will hold their second annual 5K Red Kettle Turkey Trot at 9 a.m. on Nov. 18 at the Van Wert Reservoir. Registration is $30. Proceeds will go toward Salvation Army services. Statewide Lincoln Ford, Van Wert Best Auto, Collette Carcione, and Rita Hurless are all sponsors for the event.

“The Salvation Army is a United Way funded agency,” added Morales. “So all of that money goes specifically to our food pantry.”

To volunteer with the Salvation Army during the holiday season, people can contact Lt. Josh Morales at Joshua.Morales@USE.SalvationArmy.org or Lt. Josh Brookman at Joshua.Brookman@USE.SalvationArmy.org or by contacting the Salvation Army at 419-910-9332.