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Salvation Army drive appears on record pace

Lincoln County residents continue to defy the national economyand cement themselves as charitable people by helping areacharities meet and surpass donation totals reached during brighterfinancial times.

Salvation Army Lincoln County Coordinator Wesley Kent said the2008 bell-ringing drive, the organization’s largest collectioneffort, was on pace to beat the 2007 mark of $24,000 by the timethe bells went silent Christmas Eve. It was not clear whether the2008 goal of $30,000 would be met, but Kent said the signs arepositive.

Kent said last week’s tally – taken at roughly the halfway markof the drive – put the total at more than $16,000. There is morethan one week’s worth of paper money yet to be tallied, and none ofthe change from the entire month-long effort has been countedyet.

“The coins are not the major part, but they make a lot ofdifference,” said Kent, who expected to have a total later thisweek or early next week. “Based on what we’ve done up to now, Ithink we’re going to collect more money this year than we did lastyear.”

Kent said the Lincoln County area is shining in 2008, as thecollection totals are not up across the board. He said thebell-ringing drives in the Jackson and McComb areas are notenjoying the same success as the Brookhaven effort.

Several factors have made Lincoln County the bright spot of theSalvation Army’s drive this year, he said, and they all stem fromlocal generosity.

Although the donation pots at the entrances to the BrookhavenWal-Mart were scheduled to operate only from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.,Kent said local volunteers had shown up as early as 8 a.m. on theirown accord. The extra two hours of collection each day contributedto the rising totals, he said.

There were more hours spent manning the post because there aremore men. Kent said 2008 has seen the Salvation Army use morevolunteers in Brookhaven than ever before, with well over 100individuals and members of various organizations, outdoing lastyear’s total of 90 as hoped for. He said some of the volunteersrang the bell as many as 10 or 15 times – approximately half of thedays the drive is active.

“It’s probably more than 100, because sometimes we’ll havesomething like a Scout group come out with eight or 10 members,”Kent said. “Prior to this year, we’ve had trouble just keeping thetwo-hour shifts filled.”

Kent said bell-ringers this year included individuals andmembers of organizations like the Brookhaven Exchange Club, severalschools in the Brookhaven and Lincoln County districts, BrookhavenAcademy, the Mississippi School for the Arts, the Copiah-LincolnCommunity College nursing school and several others.

“There’s no telling how many groups we’ve had to volunteer,” hesaid. “I can’t think of a group we asked that didn’t volunteer, andsome volunteered that we didn’t ask.”

The other factor in the Salvation Army’s increased donationtotal is simple – increased donations.

Kent said the donation buckets filled up mid-day more than oncethis year, as people stuffed them with bills and coin. Somefamilies, he said, approached the volunteers with grocery bagsfilled with pounds of coins.

Before the drive kicked off in early December, Kent

said he was concerned that donations would be down. Now, hestands happily corrected.

“It shows the people in this area are generous and they helpother people,” Kent said. “The people here realize that with theeconomy this bad, the need is greater.”

Salvation Army bell ringer Roland Lea is a jack of allcharities. He said Tuesday he has been on duty at Wal-Mart threetimes a week this year, his third to volunteer in full Santa Clausregalia.

“Someone gave me a Santa Claus suit, and I kept it – I volunteeras Santa around town and at schools,” he said. “Mr. Kent told mehow bad he needed volunteers, and I’m here to help him.”

Sheila Kinchen, of Hammond, La., made a donation to theSalvation Army Tuesday as she shopped in Brookhaven. She said shealways gives to the organization at Christmas after meeting two menwhile volunteering for her church who said the Salvation Army fedand put them up during cold Chicago nights.

“The Salvation Army is a worthy cause,” Kinchen said. “I’venever been cold and hungry at Christmas, but I understand somepeople are.”

After this year’s effort, hopefully there will be less people inLincoln County who are cold and hungry. Kent said 86 percent of themoney collected locally is spent locally to help the needy anddisaster victims.

The Salvation Army lists more than 800 families assisted and$185,000 spent for relief in Amite, Lawrence, Lincoln, Pike andWalthall counties over the years. After this year, the latternumber will be creeping up on a quarter million.