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Not too late to help Salvation Army

You hear the bells and see the iconic red kettles that are used to collect money. But how much do you know about the Salvation Army's annual Christmas collection?

In a tight economy you won't be surprised to learn that the Salvation Army is projecting to collect 10 percent less in Gwinnett this year than last. But did you know more individuals are signing up to help this year? And that there's still time to be one?

The Salvation Army, which gets a bulk of its volunteers from civic groups, has seen an increase in individual volunteers this season. And it's not too late to join the trend, said Capt. Bobby Westmoreland, director of the Salvation Army in Gwinnett.

"We still need people," he said. "(Individual volunteers) - that's the one bright spot. A lot more individuals this year have stepped up.

"This year we've got a better response. People are more aware that there's a need. (But) we're down (in collections) and it's weighing on us a lot."

Westmoreland said the goal in Gwinnett is to raise $215,000, the same as last year. But with the economic situation and the fact a weekend of collecting is lost due to when Christmas falls, things are very different from last year. Because of that, Westmoreland is projecting that Gwinnett will raise 10 percent less this year, a number that could go to 20 percent if the Salvation Army doesn't have a huge finish like last year when $20,000 was raised during the weekend before Christmas.

"That would mean a huge cut for what we're able to do for people in the community," he said.

That's a lot of people. Last year the Gwinnett center helped 56,000 folks, which is why the Christmas collection is so important.

"Sometimes we're the only thing standing between a family and homelessness," Westmoreland said.

It's been an odd year for collections, Westmoreland said. While Gwinnett is down, he said Cobb and Fulton counties are having big years. He is at a loss to explain why, but said it's not for a lack of effort.

The Salvation Army has 32 collection spots around Gwinnett. Most of them are manned by groups from schools, churches and service organizations. There is some training, but mostly it's smile, wish people a Merry Christmas and ring that bell.

It's a very rewarding experience, said Westmoreland, who takes his turn at the kettles. And you can join by calling the Salvation Army at 770-963-8802 and asking for Geanna Bagley or by e-mailing Bobby_Westmoreland@uss.salvationarmy.org. Just be prepared to literally ring in Christmas.

So, how many times does a bell ringer ring the bell in an hour?

"Oh heavens, I don't have a clue," Westmoreland said. "You just have to keep ringing that bell."

Through Christmas Eve, Salvation Army volunteers will be doing just that. And with one phone call, you can too.

E-mail Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Tuesdays.

SideBar: Want to help?

To become a bell ringer, call the Salvation Army at 770-963-8802 and ask for Geanna Bagley or send an e-mail to: Bobby_Westmoreland@uss.salvationarmy.org.