Even before Halloween, retailers rush to get their Christmas displays on the floor. But they have nothing on Lt. Christian Smith in getting an early jump on the holiday.
“We started our work in September,” said Smith, commander of the Columbus Salvation Army.
The Columbus Salvation Army has already kicked off its two major annual campaigns — the Red Kettle and Angel Tree campaigns. The Angel Trees went up on Nov. 12, while the kettle campaign started Monday. But the preparation for those campaigns began months ago.
“September is our planning month,” Smith said. “We’re figuring out everything we have to do, the processes we have to go through, basically everything needed to get the campaigns up and running.”
This year, the Columbus Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Drive will operate at 12 to 14 sites in Columbus and West Point, including one new site at Old Navy.
Smith said he has a goal of $80,000 for the Red Kettle campaign, which will help fund the organization’s local aid programs throughout next year.
Meanwhile, the Salvation Army Angel Tree campaign will solicit donations of unwrapped gifts at locations at Leigh Mall and Lion Hills Center.
“This year, we’ll serve 123 families with a total of 238 children,” Smith said.
Smith is the son of Salvation Army directors and is well familiar with both campaigns.
“This is first time I’ve been in charge of both at once,” he said. “I’ve led the charge for kettles a few years previously, but I’ve never been in charge of the Angel Tree program.”
The logistics in putting together the two campaigns are very different. Both are labor-intensive.
For the Red Kettle Drive, much of the planning revolves around recruiting and scheduling the bell-ringers who man the kettles.
“Normally, we start booking volunteers for the kettle program in mid-October,” said Smith, who said he’ll be trying to fill 558 nine-hour shifts from today’s opening of the campaign until it ends of Christmas Eve.
For the Angel Tree program, the heavy-lifting revolves around lining up families and children eligible to receive the gifts.
“The angels are selected mainly through an application process, although we do get some referrals,” Smith said. “It’s pretty time intensive. We have to sit down with the families, get all their information, do interviews to make sure they meet the eligibility requirements. That usually takes about 30 minutes for each family. This year we have 123 families, so you can do the math and see how time-consuming it is.”
Angel Tree donations will be distributed on Dec. 17 and Smith said donors should bring their gifts to the Salvation Army by Dec. 10, which provides time to organize and inventory the gifts and fill gaps in gifts through other donations that have been made to the Salvation Army.
For Smith, the next month is going to be a busy one.
“I’ve pretty much prepared myself that it’s going to be 12-hour days for me the rest of the way,” he said. “I do have a great staff and a great team, so I’m not going to have to do everything, but I do know I’m either going to be working or on-call from here on out. That’s the way it goes.”
Starkville Red Kettle Drive
The Salvation Army of Starkville will kick off its Red Kettle Campaign with a special ceremony Friday at 9:30 a.m. at Vowell’s Marketplace, one of the four red kettle sites in town.
Mississippi State football coach Joe Moorhead, Mayor Lynn Spruill and Police Chief Frank Nichols will be on hand to launch this year’s campaign.
No offense to the mayor, but police officers and Mississippi State coaches and players are big draws to the kettles, said campaign coordinator Lashaunda Bobbett.
“We see our donations go up when police are bell-ringers,” Bobbett said. “Mississippi State players also bring in more donations. When kids see police officers or their favorite players, it makes them want to drop money into the kettles, so we really are grateful to the police department and Mississippi State. We love having them as bell-ringers.”
This year, the Salvation Army of Starkville has a goal of $56,000 for its Red Kettle Drive.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is email@example.com.
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