By Will Broaddus
---- — For more than 100 years, The Salvation Army has rung bells to celebrate the holidays and help the needy.
This year, their bells have been ringing since Nov. 12 in many places across the North Shore, at the red kettles in which they accept donations.
“At any one time, we have 25 businesses that allow us to stand in front of their location,” said Capt. Scott McNeil, who leads the regional Salvation Army in Salem. “We’ll go through every day, except Sundays, right to Christmas Eve.”
While the holiday season only lasts a few weeks, the donations collected during this time make a difference all year.
“It’s the most important fund-raiser, to keep us open and operating,” McNeil said.
The Salvation Army has already used some of those funds to distribute more than 400 meals in time for Thursday’s Thanksgiving dinners. Now, through their Angel Trees program, The Salvation Army will also try to make the holidays special for children by providing not just any gift, but the one they really want for Christmas. Angel Trees are Christmas trees, placed at local businesses, that are decorated with slips of paper on which children have written a gift request.
Members of the public are invited to buy the present a child has asked for, then return it with the slip to make some youngster’s Christmas dreams come true. Anyone who would like to participate but can’t find an Angel Tree is welcome to call The Salvation Army’s Salem office and ask for a gift request.
The phone number at The Salvation Army in Salem is 978-744-5181.
“We’re always looking for businesses to host an Angel,” McNeil said. “Also, possibly, for someone to adopt a family.”
Such adoptions, which are conducted in strictest confidence, would link a potential donor with a family that needs help during the holidays.
“Call the office,” McNeil said, “and speak to Linda Labbe or Katina Polemenako. Just ask either one of them about adopting a family for the Christmas season.”
“They can discuss what size family they’d like to adopt, how many children, maybe a certain situation. We try to match you with people who need assistance. We keep names confidential. There’s no interaction at all,” he said.
The Salvation Army’s mission extends beyond the holidays, to running a food pantry and covering basic needs like fuel assistance and warm clothes, and providing rent and utility assistance in emergencies.
That’s why it’s important to make donations, not only with the holidays in mind, but with an eye toward the work The Salvation Army does all year.
Times readers can contribute through this newspaper, by sending a check made out to “Salvation Army Holiday Fund” to: ECN Holiday Fund, 32 Dunham Road, Beverly, MA 01915. Readers may also drop off checks or other gifts at the Gloucester Daily Times office at 36 Whittemore St.
Since the ECN fund goes to several different areas contributors should indicate in the memo line of the check, or in an enclosed note, which community they would like their contribution to go to, defined by areas covered by North of Boston Media Group newspapers — the area covered by the Gloucester Daily Times, by The Salem News, or by The Daily News of Newburyport.
McNeil said there are also online “kettles” where the Salvation Army accepts donations.
“To donate to the North Shore, go to www.onlineredkettle.org/northshore — that will keep it local with us,” he said.
McNeil also shared the message at the heart of The Salvation Army’s mission.
“We’re really a church, and we believe that Jesus is the reason for the season,” he said. “That’s our foundation, what we stand on.
“We’re here helping people with need without discrimination. We don’t care what their lifestyle is, or what life choices they’ve made. If they’re in need, we want to help them.”