by Dennis Dalman
There are plenty of ways to make someone else’s Christmas brighter through the local Salvation Army – ringing the bells, giving toys or donating to the food shelf.
Salvation Army bell ringers are still needed to help collect money in the iconic red kettles. Typically, bells are rung at 25 stores until Dec. 24 in the cities of Sartell, St. Joseph, St. Cloud, Waite Park, Sauk Rapids and St. Augusta. Altogether, bill ringers locally put in 8,000 hours of bell-ringing each Christmas season.
The goal this year is to raise $220,000 – money that goes to help pay for the Salvation Army’s emergency shelter, the food shelf and the community meal service, which served 30,000 meals last year. More than 220 tons were distributed to needy people from the food shelf. The Salvation Army shelter has 64 beds, and there are 10 families on the waiting list. Last month, there were 1,750 “shelter nights,” said Jim Muellenbach, community development director for the St. Cloud-based Salvation Army. Those shelter nights are computed by multiplying the number of beds (54) by the number of days in the last month. Of those 1,750 shelter nights, 250 of them were children. On the shelter’s lower level are beds and rooms for women and children. On the upper level are beds and rooms for men, with four men to a room. Seven beds are reserved just for veterans.
Bell ringers, Muellenbach said, help make all those vital services possible. Bell-ringing volunteers are requested to ring the bell for two hours, if they can, although if they can only ring one hour, that’s fine too. They can choose their times and stores. This year, last year’s champion bell ringer, Sartell Mayor Joe Perske, will again ring the bell in front of the Walmart store in Epic Center, Sartell. Perske will be there from 4-8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 21.
The Kettle goal of $220,000 is part of the overall goal of $500,000 which will be used to provide immediate assistance of new toys, clothing and food during the Christmas holidays and to support year around programs as well. This includes a 64-bed Emergency Shelter, Community Meals, Food Pantry, Housing Program and a shelter program for homeless veterans.
To volunteer as a bell-ringer, call Brenda at 252-4552.
Toys will be accepted by the Salvation Army through Friday, Dec. 14. They will be distributed at the St. Cloud Armory Dec. 20-21.
This year, the Salvation Army will do a different kind of distribution. It will allow parents or guardians to choose several toys from among many tables filled with toys for various ages. They can then wrap them for their children ages 0 to teens. Previously, the Salvation Army would assemble gift packages and give them to parents or guardians. The new way, Muellenbach said, will help families get more specific as to which toys will be a good “fit” for their children. Any new toys are acceptable, although there is a special need for toys for teens because people who donate toys often think mostly of small children and forget about needy teens, Muellenbach noted.
Toys can be delivered to the Salvation Army from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. It is located at 400 Hwy. 10 S. in St. Cloud, near Michael’s Restaurant and across the highway from Cash Wise.
Parents or guardians who need toys for their children should sign up at the Salvation Army or call 252-4552.
Actual food items are always welcome at the Salvation Army Food Shelf, but even better are cash/check donations, Muellenbach noted.
That is because if someone donates, say, $20 in cash or check, that amount can buy $129 worth of food at “Second Harvest,” a massive food-distribution center in the Twin Cities. Food there can be bought for 20 cents per pound.
Another good reason to give cash or check donations to the food shelf is because the Norman Skalicky Foundation will give a $20,000 matching grant if that amount is raised at large. Muellenbach also noted an anonymous donor has pledged to give up to $20,000 based on money dropped in red kettles. From the bell-ringing times of Dec. 17-22, that anonymous donor will match the amount of money deposited in kettles during that six-day period. That amount, $20,000, would purchase $120,000-worth of food at Second Harvest.
“This is a wonderful gift. We are working hard to make our goal but are about $10,000 behind. This gift will help get us back on track,” said Major Lee Morrison of the Salvation Army.
The Salvation Army has been experiencing an increase in the number of families requesting shelter and food this past year and it has put a strain on resources. “Food requests are up between 5-7 percent and our emergency shelter is experiencing and increase, especially in families needing a place to stay.” Morrison said.
Any donation given at a kettle or sent in the mail will be used as part of the match.
Food shelf donation checks – or donations for any other service – can be written out to: “Food Shelf Charity Challenge” and mailed to Salvation Army, 400 Hwy. 10 S., St. Cloud, MN 56304 or give online at www.salvationarmynorth.org/stcloud.