12/12/12 — Salvation Army will be ringing bells until Christmas Eve

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Salvation Army will be ringing bells until Christmas Eve

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on December 12, 2012 1:46 PM

Kent Larsen was just 19 and in the Marine Corps when he was wounded in the far east. The private first class spent that Christmas in a field hospital.

"A whole bunch of us were pretty much beat up and wounded," Larsen said. "All the different denominations of churches came through looking for people of their own religion, giving them presents.

"Then the Salvation Army came and didn't care what we were -- Jews, Muslims, Catholics. They gave us little packs of cigarettes and other little things."

The 75-year-old can't even talk about it today without choking up, and that was more than 50 years ago.

"You just had to be there to understand what it meant to us," Larsen said. "It warmed our hearts. We weren't given a sermon; we saw one."

Larsen said those Salvation Army people would never know what it meant to him and the other military guys, some of whom did not make it home alive.

Larsen tells his story whenever he passes by a Salvation Army bell ringer. And it's stories like these that keep the people ringing the bells going.

This year's kettle campaign started the day after Thanksgiving. The familiar red kettles will be found at places like the mall entrance, JCPenney, the Walmarts in Goldsboro and Mount Olive, Food Lions, Carlie C's, Piggly Wiggly in Mount Olive and Kmart. The campaign will end Christmas Eve at 5 p.m.

Lt. Kenny Igleheart, Salvation Army commander, said the 2012 goal is $79,000, the amount that last year's efforts raised.

And even though there are less bell ringing days this year, the campaign is right where it should be, Igleheart said.

Volunteers come from the local bridge club, Golden K Kiwanis Cub, Lions Club, Mount Olive Exchange Club, local churches, Girl Scouts, Sunday school classes, Goldsboro High School, some of the local school clubs and just individuals.

"But not all of the bell ringers are volunteers," Igleheart said. "If I have a location that's not staffed with volunteers, then I have to put in that spot someone I've hired at minimum wage."

On an average day, there are between eight and 12 bell ringers out. But some days, the Salvation Army has had to increase that to 16.

Igleheart said the money helps with Christmas for local people and also throughout the year for items such as rent assistance, utilities, food, clothing and the group's men's shelter.

"Helping people throughout the year gives us chances to change people's lives," Igleheart said. "Like the young lady we had here last week who rang the bell for us last year, but this year is having some difficult times right now. I got a chance to pray with her and gave her some food. When she stopped crying, she thanked us for praying with her.

"That's why we do what we do. It doesn't just happen during Thanksgiving and Christmas. It happens Jan. 1 through next November day to day to day."

And although some of the money is used to buy gifts for tags on the Angel Trees the Salvation Army has up all over town, the group's goal is to help people not just at Christmas time, but year round, to change their lives for the better.

"People come through our doors with an issue and we try to help them," Igleheart said. "That's the kind of stuff we get everyday and that's what the money raised from the kettle campaign helps with. And money raised here stays here."

And most people are generous, Igleheart said.

"But there are some who try to avoid the bell ringers like the plague," he said. "They'll come up hiding their faces and turn away. I've seen them walk into walls, pillars, everything to avoid our bell ringers. Whether you give or not, Jesus still loves you, and that's what we really care about."

Without money raised from the kettle campaign, the Salvation Army would have to turn a lot of people needing help away throughout the year.