LAWRENCEVILLE - With one more day left of ringing, the county's Salvation Army has already surpassed its $175,000 fundraising goal.
Capt. Bobby Westmoreland said he was amazed by how generous Gwinnett residents have been.
"I can't thank this community enough," he said. "I want to shout it from the rooftops. This is the true spirit of Christmas giving."
By the end of ringing Thursday, $178,757.33 had been collected in the ubiquitous red kettles and through other donations at 45 Gwinnett locations.
The biggest collectors by far were eight area Wal-Marts, which took in $83,266.84. Shoppers donated $50,638.28 at local malls and the rest at Krogers, Belk's, Sam's Clubs and other retailers throughout the county.
Last year, Westmoreland said he was worried that people donating money to post-Katrina efforts would limit the amount of funds dropped into kettles. The Salvation Army instead took in $12,000 more than its $150,000 goal.
In the past year, Westmoreland said, Gwinnett's needs have increased with its growing population. The Army expects to help 4,000 children this Christmas, and will also assist people who were evicted or have bills to pay.
"We help when there's a crisis," Westmoreland said. "People turn to someone to help. We want to be that someone."
Because giving has already exceeded the group's goal, Westmoreland said the Salvation Army will be able to do more this holiday season - they have already replaced Christmas presents for a family whose home was robbed and bought gifts for another who lost their presents in a fire.
The money raised through the kettle drive will be used throughout the winter, Westmoreland said.
"It's the Christmas gift people give that keeps on giving," he said. "Every penny counts. You'd be amazed how quickly pennies, nickels and dimes add up."