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Salvation Army pins hopes for kettle drive on Christmas Eve

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Volunteer Linda Holmes lifts the kettle to make it easier for Collette Box of South Toledo to donate at The Andersons in Maumee. Jerry Hinzman plays Christmas carols in the background.

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Capt. Steven Lopes is counting on the final day of the Salvation Army's annual Red Kettle campaign to get the agency to its $550,000 goal.

"It's going to come down to the wire -- that last penny that goes into that last bucket on Christmas Eve," he said. "If you walk by a bucket, please throw in your loose change."

With the dollar bills and assorted coins collected and counted through the end of the day Thursday, Toledo-area Salvation Army bell ringers had taken in approximately $490,000 -- leaving the campaign $60,000 short of its goal.

Captain Lopes, pastor and northwest Ohio services coordinator for the agency, was cautiously optimistic. He said shoppers are typically extra generous on Christmas Eve, although stores close earlier.

"As far as collections per hour, it's the most profitable day of the year," he said. "I just don't have enough hours in the day on Christmas Eve. All the bell ringers go out by 8 a.m., but they come in at 4 or 4:30 p.m. Normally, we're out until 7 or 8 p.m."

Collections at the three Toledo-area locations of The Andersons were up this week, he said, thanks in part to the company's offer to match every dollar that goes into a red kettle at their stores with $2, up to $25,000, Wednesday through Saturday. "When we found out that the Salvation Army was going to be under its goal, we felt compelled to do something because of the overwhelming need in the community," said Debra Crow, spokesman for The Andersons.

The Andersons, which previously kicked in $10,000 to match a like amount that came in Dec. 9-11, has supported the Red Kettle campaign for years. Ms. Crow said the company is impressed with the leadership of the Salvation Army and the impact the agency makes in the community. "We believe they provide wonderful services -- not just at Christmas but all year long," she said.

Proceeds from the Red Kettle campaign support programs that help those in need with things such as rent, food, utilities, and substance abuse treatment. In 2010, the Salvation Army collected $535,428 after setting a goal of $520,000.

Captain Lopes said the organization relies on a combination of volunteers and paid employees to carry out the Red Kettle campaign, which this year began Nov. 17. Bell ringers have been stationed at 59 sites throughout greater Toledo and 20 or so in Wood and Ottawa counties.

Linda Holmes has volunteered as a bell ringer every December for the past decade. "It makes me feel joy," said Ms. Holmes, 48, as she stood outside The Andersons in Maumee Thursday. "It helps me get my Christmas spirit."

Even as the Toledo resident spoke, she didn't stop ringing the bells. Customers -- some wearing Santa hats -- walked past her in the store lobby, carrying bread and other groceries.

Captain Lopes said that despite the tough economy, people are still giving. They just may not give as much.

"There's a group of people who used to always give to the Salvation Army, but because of the economy, instead of putting a dollar bill in the kettle, maybe all they have is a small amount of change," he said. "We hear constantly, 'We wish we could give more.' "

Still, he said, "Pennies turn into nickels. Nickels turn into dimes. We're thankful for those pennies. Every penny counts."

Staff writer Gabrielle Russon contributed to this report.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-724-6129.

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