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Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
The Salvation Army officially kicked off its annual Red Kettle Campaign on Wednesday. Here, Capt. Sonja Jenkins rings her bell outside the Kroger store on West State Boulevard.

It's red-bucket season

FORT WAYNE -- Salvation Army bell ringers will be standing next to area stores on fewer days this holiday season, so local shoppers are asked to pick up the slack to help the organization provide assistance for needy families.

On Wednesday, Salvation Army Allen County Coordinator Maj. Harold Poff announced the beginning of the annual Red Kettle Campaign and Christmas fundraising season.

Kettles are already in place at area Kroger and Scott’s food stores, as well as Big Lots discount stores. But the campaign doesn’t officially kick off until Friday, when kettles and bell ringers will be out at 49 area locations, including department stores and Hobby Lobby.

At the Hobby Lobby Friday, 10-year-old Gregory Keller will begin his fourth year of bell ringing for the Salvation Army. Last year, with a goal of raising $500 for the organization, Keller raised $651, according to the Salvation Army.

On Saturday, Star Wars fans can catch a glimpse of Darth Vader and some Storm Troopers as they ring the bell from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. by the fountain at the mall entrance to JC Penney.

The kettle campaign is shorter by 11 days this year after an agreement was hammered out between national retailers and the Salvation Army. And the trend nationally has been to shorten the time available to the bell ringers, Poff said.

While the amount of time the campaign will be held has shrunk, the need for the money raised has not abated.

“Our operating and programming budget remains the same for next year, though we have fewer days to reach our goal,” he said.

The agency’s Angel Tree program also begins this week. Those wanting to pick up an angel to buy gifts for needy families can do so at area Wal-Mart stores, The Salvation Army, Arbor Lakes apartments, Chick-Fil-A at Jefferson Pointe, Stone Pointe Village Apartments, the Glenbrook Carousel, JC Penney, Fifth Third Bank, Macy’s and Sears at Glenbrook Square.

Last year, the Salvation Army assisted 11,000 people in Allen County, said Timothy Smith, the social service director for The Salvation Army.