Nothing rings in the holiday season like the familiar sound of a Salvation Army bell chiming through the crisp winter air.
The McHenry County chapter of The Salvation Army kicks off its Red Kettle campaign this Friday, Nov. 16.
Every year, hundreds of volunteers brave the winter cold, wind and snow to ring bells at red kettles located throughout the county in hopes of reaching the army's holiday fundraising goal.
Kettles stand at store fronts in Algonquin, Cary, Crystal Lake, Fox River Grove, Harvard, Huntley, Island Lake, Lake in the Hills, Marengo, McHenry, Wonder Lake and Woodstock.
This year's Red Kettle goal is $340,000 (the group's stretch goal is $400,000), said Linda Hunter, community relations and development coordinator for The Salvation Army of McHenry County. The organization raised more than $400,000 last year.
"We are looking for hundreds of volunteers," said Hunter, speaking at a press conference Tuesday at the army's church and corps community center locted at 290 W. Crystal Lake Ave., Crystal Lake.
So far this year, 400 individuals and groups have already volunteered to ring bells. The army needs about 2,000 bell ringers in all, Hunter said.
"McHenry County's Red Kettle Program is 100 percent volunteer-run," said Hunter. Some Salvation Army chapters have to hire bell ringers, she said.
Bell ringer shifts run Monday through Saturday. No one works on Sundays. New this year, volunteers can sign up for two-hour bell ringing shifts online. Click on this link to sign up now.
Maj. Garry Lowder said the Red Kettle Program is a major annual fundraiser for the Salvation Army, helping to pay for the many services the organization provides for people in need.
"During the Christmas season, we raise one-third of the money for our yearly budget," Lowder said.
Last year, The Salvation Army served 625 families and 3,155 individuals in McHenry County during the holidays, Hunter said.
The army is currently accepting applications from individuals and families in need at its Crystal Lake chapel. Anyone needing assistance is encouraged to apply by Friday, but Maj. Nancy Lowder said The Salvation Army takes calls all holiday season.
"Life happens," said Nancy Lowder, who was recently assigned as officer of the McHenry County Salvation Army along with her husband, Garry. "Christmas emergencies happen. That's why we're here."
Angel Tree Program
In coordination with the kettle program, The Salvation Army also has started its Angel Tree toy collection program. Local companies, churches, schools and other groups volunteer to particpate in the Angel Tree program by placing a Christmas tree in a prominent location and hanging angel tags upon it.
Each angel tag lists a specific child, age, gender and gift wish. Employees and group/ church members have the option of selecting a tag and buying that gift. The unwrapped toys are collected and brought to The Salvation Army's "Toy Store," located in the former Walter E. Smithe store at Manor Road and Route 14. (Volunteers are also needed to work at the Toy Store).
"The parents (in need) come to our toy store and pick out the toys for their children," Hunter said. "We allow them the dignity to pick their children's gifts. No one knows what a child wants for Christmas more than their own parents."
Hunter said some donors purchase toys and others buy gift cards for the Angel Tree program. Last year, 14,401 toys and gift cards were collected by The Salvation Army of McHenry County.
"When people make a donation, it stays in McHenry County," Hunter said.
More information about The Salvation Army Red Kettle Program, Angel Tree Program and services is available by calling 815-455-2769 or at The Salvation Army website.
The Salvation Army of McHenry County provides emergency assistance to individuals and families who find themselves without the basic necessities for survival.
Assistance can include: emergency shelter, rent assistance with eviction notice, utility bill assistance with disconnect notice, medical prescriptions assistance, clothing and winter coat vouchers, emergency food.
Each individual will have a personal interview to determine true need, the best method to meet that need and offer life skills guidance to prevent further occurrence of the emergency situation.