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Friday start for annual bell ringing

Let the giving commence.

Almost as iconic as the Christmas tree itself is the scene of a suited-up Santa ringing a bell for the Salvation Army during the holidays, and the bell ringing will begin Friday at the main entrance of Wal-Mart in Brookhaven.

Brookhavenites know the drill – the Salvation Army depends on donations to help needy families in the area, and after a full year of economic recession, the needy have increased in number. The donations must follow.

“More people are calling in for assistance than normal,” saidCapt. Rick Boone, an officer in the Salvation Army’s McComb office.”And they seem to be more desperate. And it’s not just the poor. A lot of people are coming for the first time.”

Boone said the Salvation Army will attempt to raise $80,000 over the five-county area, which includes Amite, Lawrence, Lincoln, Pike and Walthall counties. The target for Brookhaven alone is $35,000,slightly more than the $33,000 total raised last year.

“If we go beyond that, we’ve got a whole lot to shout about,” he said.

Boone is confident the goals will be met. He’s served 11 years with the Salvation Army, in Virginia; Washington, D.C. and theDelta region of Mississippi. He said Southwest Mississippi’s givers give the most.

“I’ve seen the biggest pot ever in the kettles down here. It’s unreal,” he said. “I can’t figure it out. Even when we were in the other areas of Mississippi, they give, but not like they give down here.”

Before donations can be accepted, the Salvation Army needsvolunteers to man the bells. Brookhaven bell-ringing coordinatorWesley Kent will again be joined by his right-hand men, the Rev.Bobby Harris of Mt. Wade Missionary Baptist Church and Otha Lloydof Hazlehurst’s Seventh Day Adventist Church.

They can’t do it alone.

“We’ve got 65-70 volunteers now and I’m working on more,” Kent said. “We may have had a few more last year, but I got some of themlater on in the year, so I expect to get some more.”

Kent said volunteer bell ringers will ring in two-hour shifts,and dressing like Santa is optional, not mandatory. Chairs are provided at the site for comfort, and bell ringers do not solicit donations.

“We just ring the bell, and when they give us something we tell them, ‘Thank you and Merry Christmas,'” Kent said.

Kent said ringing for the Salvation Army is a great way for students to satisfy community service requirements. He will beseeking volunteers from several local school organizations and other clubs and commissions.

As for the $35,000 goal, Kent said he expects to meet and exceed it.

“We just let people know that times are tough, and we expect them to dig a little deeper,” he said. “This is a generous community, so I think they’ll come through.”

Interested people may volunteer as a Salvation Army bell ringer by contacting Kent at 601-833-1088, or 601-695-6936. Bell ringing will begin early this year at 6 a.m. Friday to take advantage ofBlack Friday shopping crowds.