Christmas bells are ringing, bringing in the season of kindness and giving.

This year’s Salvation Army Kettle Drive, the nonprofit organization’s biggest annual fundraiser, kicked off last week at Walmart in Fulton. Itawamba Agricultural High School football players served as bell ringers for the program’s inaugural day, Black Friday.

With this year’s shortened shopping season, only 21 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Salvation Army Director Joanna Crawley says she’s concerned the nonprofit may not take in the funds necessary to meet community needs.

“The money raised during the Kettle Drive is used to support social services for Itawamba County residents, such as paying utilities during hardship or other financial assistance,” Crawley told The Times. “Every dime goes to help local residents.”

With the Salvation Army’s fundraising season now in full swing, Crawley is looking for more volunteers to help. There are still a number of times available for volunteers to ring those distinctive bells. The drive will continue through Dec. 24.

The Kettle Drive relies heavily on volunteer labor, although the Salvation Army will pay bell ringers to fill in gaps. Crawley noted that if the organization has to pay people, they are not able to help families as much throughout the year.

“We have several spots still open that need to be filled,” Crawley said. “We are really desperate for volunteers to finish out the season. You can volunteer for one hour up to as many hours as you like.”

Although there are plenty of time slots available for the Kettle Drive, this year’s Angel Tree has the fewest number of participants Crawley has seen in years. Fewer than 50 names were placed on the Angel Tree, located inside the door at Fulton’s Walmart. At press time there were only nine angels left.

Each tag or “angel” on the tree represents an underprivileged child and features a short list of gifts he or she hopes to receive this Christmas.

Gifts range from toys to clothes and should be newly-purchased and placed in a large, black garbage sack with the child’s Angel Tree tag taped to the outside. The bags can be dropped off at the Salvation Army store in Fulton for distribution to their families.

Families who are selected as part of the Angel Tree program have passed a relatively simple set of guidelines that help ensure their need. The decision of whether or not to include a child’s wish list on the tree hinges upon the parents’ income versus expenses. Those parents who can’t afford to have a Christmas, based on that information, have their child’s name accepted onto the tree.

Fewer names on the tree can either be good or bad. Maybe there aren’t as many local children in need this year, or maybe

“In a way, it’s good that there are fewer names, but at the same time we’re just hoping no child goes without having Christmas gifts under the tree,” Crawley said.

Gifts need to be turned in by Dec. 13.

The Angel Tree program is one of the organization’s oldest and most well-known charities. More than 1 million children who usually have to go without Christmas gifts have a brighter season because of anonymous donors participating in the program.

For more information about the Kettle Drive, Angel Tree or to volunteer to help the local Salvation Army call 662-862-7249.

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