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Need putting clamp on Salvation Army

LAWRENCEVILLE - When ringing ended right before Christmas last December, the Salvation Army's familiar red kettles were fuller than they'd ever been.

But more than $180,000 collected from shoppers in quarters and dollars wasn't enough to meet the needs of county residents this year. Capt. Bobby Westmoreland said he upped the Army's goal to $200,000 this winter, but after spending all of the organization's reserves, he wonders if that will last through next Christmas.

"My eye is on the economic situation," Westmoreland said. "The working poor are already hit very, very hard. I fear that $200,000, the goal we set, may not be enough."

Westmoreland said he had a 23 percent increase in children needing Christmas gifts from the organization's Angel Tree project this year. Requests for rent assistance have gone up, as have those for food and help with bills.

The only reason Gwinnett's Salvation Army isn't in debt, he said, is because the organization spent the $89,000 they had in reserves.

"We can certainly feel the crunch right here," Westmoreland said. "It's times like these, we're happy if we do the same as last year."

Army volunteers collected $195,000 as of Friday and Westmoreland said he's not going to let concern about the organization's finances cloud the work he and other members are doing in the growing community.

"I have a strong sense there are greater needs than the resources in the bank, yet who among us doesn't have that?" Westmoreland said. "When you're staring at an $89,000 deficit from the year before, it makes you nervous. But I believe God's going to provide. He has before."

The Salvation Army recently started a program that allows people to donate unused portions of gift cards, which the organization can convert to cash. Westmoreland said he hopes some funds can be recovered that way. He also said he was encouraged by Gwinnett's consistent generosity.

Next year, Westmoreland said, he hopes to have a large volunteer effort allowing different organizations to challenge each other to raise the most money. Sign-ups for ringers will begin in January.

"We need to beef up what we do," he said. "The need is growing. We're a growing county. We didn't stop anything we were planning. This year would be different."

To donate money or gift cards to the Salvation Army, send them to 3455 Sugarloaf Parkway, Lawrenceville, Ga. 30044. For more information, call 770-963-8802.