Their almost as much a part of Christmas as elves, reindeer and the old fat guy. When Christmas comes a'knocking, they come a'ringing - armed with a bell, a bucket and a smile.
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This year in Juneau, about 100 volunteers took time out of their schedules to collect money for the Juneau branch of the Salvation Army, one of the country's best-known faith-based charities. On Saturday at Fred Meyer, as shoppers bought last-minute gifts, the six members of the Kohan family were out in force.
"We did it last year. It was my kids' idea," Trish Kohan said. Her husband, Tom, added, "It's going for a good cause. There's a lot of needy people, people who don't have the essentials to get by with."
Maj. Joe Huttenlocker, head of Juneau's Salvation Army branch, said the fundraising campaign traditionally lasts from the day after Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve.
This year, the campaign ended Saturday because Christmas Eve fell on a Sunday. The organization hopes to make $30,000 this holiday season. The funds raised will cover about 10 to 15 percent of the organization's needs for the year. The rest of the funding will come from proceeds of the Salvation Army's thrift store downtown and other donations.
The Salvation Army provides food to roughly 145 families in the Juneau area, which accounts for 200 children. The organization also distributes Christmas gifts to needy children.
Trish Kohan said standing in the lobby of a grocery store ringing a bell isn't bad at all. Her family visits with Juneau friends they haven't seen in a while. That's one aspect her daughters enjoy.
"They'll come home and tell me everybody they've seen," she said. "They'll come home saying, 'Guess who I saw?'"
Huttenlocker said that nationwide, the Salvation Army raises $100 million during its holiday drive. That translates into 31 million families helped each year.
The Salvation Army started using the kettles in 1891 in San Francisco, in part to raise money for earthquake victims.
Before bell-ringer Anthony McKenzie moved to Juneau, he lived in California, where he was a victim of an earthquake of one such quake. His apartment was destroyed, he said.
"Salvation's helped me out more than anyone else," McKenzie said.
Mckenzie said he goes all out when he's working the kettle.
"I had one lady tell me I was the nicest bell ringer she had ever seen," he said.
Huttenlocker said that many of the people the Salvation Army has helped, either turn out to ring bells, or give generously when they are back on their feet.
Paradoxically, the ones that give the most are the ones with the least money, Huttenlocker, McKenzie and the Kohans said.
"There's more people who put money in the bucket wearing raggedy clothes than not," Tom Kohan said.
Often, the impetus to donate comes from children, Huttenlocker said.
"You see them tugging on their parents clothes asking for them to give money," he said.
Will Morris can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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