The Salvation Army kicked off its annual Christmas fund-raising campaign Thursday with a kettle-lighting ceremony atop the public parking garage next to Gander Mountain.
The Salvation Army set its fundraising goal this year at $1.6 million — a reflection of the increased demand for services. Fundraisers fell short of reaching last year's goal of $1.7 million.
Red kettles and volunteer bell ringers will begin showing up outside 65 retail locations on Nov. 18.
The Salvation Army's giant lighted red kettle will sit atop the parking garage throughout the campaign to remind drivers on nearby Kellogg of the importance of its mission.
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Maj. Douglas Rowland, Wichita commander for the Salvation Army, said demand for services has been up 10 to 20 percent this year while donations have declined 6 percent.The Salvation Army supports a variety of programs including youth residential services, emergency and transitional housing, foster care, and emergency social services such as food, clothing, and utility and transportation assistance.
Salvation Army spokesman Craig Plank said every service is feeling the strain.
"Across the board and across all programs, we have seen an increase in demand," he said. "The equation is out of balance right now due in most part to the sour economy."
Among those attending the ceremony was Shara Cynova, who said the Salvation Army has helped her family get through some tough financial times.
She and her husband are both unemployed, she said, and relied on the Salvation Army to help their four children, ages 3 through 12, get through Christmas last year.
"And I'm in the back-to-school program, which is wonderful," she said. "We got backpacks, all the crayons.... Every thing on their school list, they pretty much got."
Plank said this year's fundraising efforts for the first time will include an online Red Kettle Campaign, which will offer supporters a chance to set up their own online kettles.
"Anybody who has a passion for the Army and a passion for the mission of the Army can get involved and ring a virtual bell, or set up their own online bell," he said.
Those who are interested can go to www.onlineredkettle.org and follow a few simple steps to set up a kettle, he said.
Plank said those with Facebook pages can download a widget that lets their friends know that they are ringing for the Salvation Army.