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Salvation Army recruiting volunteers for holidays

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Madeline Hodek | For The Republic  Shawn Combest rings a bell Tuesday, Nov 20 outside Rural King collecting money for Salvation Army. Combest has been volunteering for Salvation Army for two years.
Madeline Hodek | For The Republic Shawn Combest rings a bell Tuesday, Nov 20 outside Rural King collecting money for Salvation Army. Combest has been volunteering for Salvation Army for two years.

A silent night sounds fittingly majestic this time of year.

But it’s bad news for the Salvation Army and the people it helps locally.

A better sound for the leaders of the Columbus social service agency and church is that of a small, ringing bell — a tradition among Christmas shoppers for decades, and the sound of hope for the struggling.

However, the Columbus area needs more volunteer ringers for its annual Red Kettle Campaign, which funds a food pantry, rent and utility assistance, a summer camp and more. In fact, organizers could use as many as 200 more people — in addition to the 75 ringers already signed up — to stand at 23 Columbus area locations and collect money in the outreach’s classic red kettles.

Last year, the organization signed up about 100 ringers, far fewer than needed to represent each station for the duration of the campaign, which concludes at noon on Dec. 24.

In past years, the shortage has been addressed by paying hired ringers $8 per hour. Lt. Alan Sladek, leader of the local agency with wife Lt. Jodi Sladek, said they try to employ struggling, lower-income Columbus residents looking for additional income.

The Salvation Army used $21,000 of the $93,000 collected during last year’s campaign to pay ringers when it struggled to get enough volunteers. This year’s goal is to raise $100,000 — preferably without having to hire anyone.

The last time the campaign hit the six-figure mark was in 2007 when it reached $112,000 under the leadership of Maj. Mark Litherland, now leading the Salvation Army in Richmond.

He’s facing the same bell-ringer-recruiting problem there.

“It’s getting harder and harder to find people,” Litherland said.

But locally, organizers still are hoping.

“Obviously, we would much rather see volunteers than having to resort to paying some people for this,” Jodi Sladek said. “We hate spending money for something that might cause us to have to turn away people who are in need.”

The Sladeks are asking churches, clubs and other organizations if their various groups or ministries would consider staffing the kettles.

They have no firm deadline for signing up volunteers. The Sladeks say that whenever people are available, they will find a way to utilize them.

“Imagine the impact that you and your friends or family can have on being a part of helping those within our community,” Alan Sladek said.

The group provides about $1,000 per month total in financial assistance to families facing hard times.

“Sometimes that means we can give (a family) only $100, and that doesn’t go very far,” Alan Sladek said.

Columbus resident Tammy Daniels will help with the kettle campaign again this year, as she did in 2011. The Salvation Army helped her with food and finances after she, her husband and two grandchildren moved here from Columbus, Ohio.

“I do it because I know (firsthand) that the money reaches people in need,” Daniels said, sitting at the Salvation Army Corps Community Center, 2525 Illinois St. “When we came here, these people (at the center) gave me a big piece of their heart.”

Last year’s national campaign collected a record amount for the seventh-straight year at $147.6 million.

Jennifer Boyd, public relations director at the Salvation Army’s national headquarters in Alexandra, Va., said the public has been very giving through the years, no matter what the state of the economy happens to be.

“We find that that never changes,” she said.

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