Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips. Valention Chambers with the Sugarloaf branch of the Salvation Army rings his bell outside of the Wal-Mart on Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road on Tuesday.
This weekend is when the Salvation Army's Red Kettle Campaign sees some of it's best results. The weekend before Christmas finds people at their busiest and in the most giving spirit, causing donations to spike.
So imagine what good spirits Capt. Bobby Westmoreland is in as the director of the Salvation Army in Gwinnett relays how well the program is doing this year.
"We're up 38 percent compared to this time last year," Westmoreland said. "We knew we had to go out earlier this year (to meet our goal), so we started five days earlier. And donors have been very good and gracious."
The annual Christmas collection was down last year, but donations and volunteers have increased in 2009. But Westmoreland and the Salvation Army remain cautious. Because of the tough economy, he said people who used to mail in larger donations are now stuffing what they can in the kettles.
"Hopefully what we get in the kettles will offset what we're losing from people we used to get checks from," he said. "We're excited and we want to celebrate, but we're also cautious."
Westmoreland said the Salvation Army has collected $193,754 through Tuesday toward its goal of $250,000. Westmoreland said he's amazed by how donations have continued to increase and by the number of people who volunteer for the cause.
The Salvation Army has red kettles at 44 locations in Gwinnett County, and 145 volunteers have spent 435 hours ringing the iconic bells. Most of the kettles are manned by groups from churches, schools and service organizations -- Westmoreland said Rotary Clubs in Gwinnett had 100 percent participation this year -- part of a group of 25,000 people ringing bells for the Salvation Army on any given day of the campaign.
"We've had more volunteers this year but we need even more," Westmoreland said, "all the way through Christmas Eve."
To volunteer, call 770-962-2988. Westmoreland said that in addition to helping others, you'll be doing something for yourself as well.
"I've never known anyone who after putting in their hours didn't feel inspired," he said.
E-mail Todd Cline at email@example.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.