The frigid weather was reminiscent of planet Hoth on Wednesday night, but instead of besieging the secret base of the Rebel Alliance, Darth Vader and his minions were battling poverty at Wal-Mart on behalf of the Salvation Army's Christmas kettle campaign.
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Miranda Wilson, Derek McHenry and Sandra Galeana dressed up in "Star Wars" costumes and volunteered to ring bells for the Salvation Army's annual Christmas fundraising effort. The three Juneau residents are members of the Aurora Borealis Alaskan Outpost of the international costuming organization dubbed 501st Legion, which pays homage to the Star Wars franchise.
"We're a volunteer costuming group," said Wilson, dressed Wednesday as an Imperial snowtrooper. "We're trying to do as much as we can throughout Juneau."
The group volunteers for different charities throughout the year and thought volunteering for the Salvation Army would be a good way to give to the community and provide a few smiles for holiday shoppers, she said.
"The kids love it," Wilson said. "They start smiling as soon as they see Darth Vader."
McHenry, dressed as the legendary villain, said people of all ages enjoy seeing them decked out in "Star Wars" costumes.
"There's still some 'Star Wars' kids out there," he said. "There are all the generations."
Darth Vader may not be the cheery holiday character most people would associate with Christmas, but his imposing image draws people's attention, McHenry said.
"We're trying to draw a little more attention than they normally have," he said.
Capt. Jack Smith of the Salvation Army said he was thrilled when approached by the group with its idea.
"What a great thing for them to do for the community and for the kids, to come out in 'Star Wars' regalia," he said.
Josh Schaa was shopping with his family on Wednesday afternoon and stopped for his son to get a photo with McHenry dressed as Darth Vader.
"It's really cool," he said. "It's good for the kids, definitely. Juneau needs more stuff like this. They're doing a good job."
Smith said the nonprofitorganization is always looking for more volunteers to help out with its Christmas kettle campaign. The annual fundraising campaign is one of the most recognized traditions of the Salvation Army.
"The kettles have been around over a hundred years and they recognize the bell ringers, they identify with the bell ringers and it has become a tradition at Christmas for the Salvation Army."
Plus, the money donated to the Salvation Army kettles in Juneau does not go to some galaxy far, far away, Smith said.
"The money that we donate in this community stays in this community," he said. "We put it to work helping those that are needy."
The Juneau members of the Aurora Borealis Alaskan Outpost are considering volunteering more around the community as the holiday season progresses but have no definite plans, Galeana said.
"I'm hoping that an interesting idea would bring more people to come and donate more money to a good cause," she said.
And Galeana has a holiday message for the community: "May the force be with you."
Contact Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or firstname.lastname@example.org.