By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
Majors Mike and Dianna Morales, the newest commanding officers at the Salvation Army, are looking for volunteers to donate their time to the annual red kettle drive.
The fundraiser begins Nov. 9 and continues through Christmas Eve. This year’s goal is $90,000.
According to Mike, most of the money goes to the Christmas effort, while any funds remaining will be used for other offerings throughout the year including the food pantry, soup kitchen and children’s programs.
“We’re hoping for volunteers because when we don’t have volunteers, we have to hire people to stand, which costs money and takes away money we can use to help the community,” he explained. “So yes, volunteers are very well needed.”
Although they’re new to Findlay, the couple has spent the past 17 years working with the Salvation Army. They served five years in Warren prior to coming to Findlay in June to take over for Majors Herb and Angie Carter. Dianna grew up in the Salvation Army in Lancaster.
“My mom went to the corps, the church, and was a soldier,” she said. “It’s a calling. You feel God tugging at your heart saying, ‘I need you here and I know you can do this.'”
Dianna admitted that she’s a shy person by nature.
“So when you’re called to be in charge of something like this, it’s very intimidating. It took a while to actually say, ‘Yes, God, I’ll do it.'”
A native of the Cincinnati area, Mike attended Asbury College, now Asbury University, after high school, where he became involved with a Salvation Army student fellowship.
“I’ve been part of the Salvation Army ever since,” he said.
The couple met while they were both working at Camp Swonecky, a Salvation Army camp for children northeast of Cincinnati.
“I saw her walking down the street and the rest is history,” said Mike.
They’ll celebrate their 32nd anniversary this year. They have two sons and four grandchildren, and their oldest son is also a Salvation Army officer.
In addition to Warren, the couple has served Salvation Army posts in Newport, Kentucky, and Norwalk.
They admit it’s hard to come to a new place, and Mike is already stressing over the kettle drive.
“Because in my previous appointments I already had my kettle workers lined up and ready to start working, and we’re not seeing that right here, right now. It’s really making me nervous,” he said.
The traditional Salvation Army fundraiser dates back to Christmas 1891 when Capt. Joseph McFee decided to provide a free holiday dinner for the area’s poor. He got permission to put out a charity pot at the Oakland ferry landing at the foot of Market Street in San Francisco. By 1895, the kettle on a stand was being used by 30 Salvation Army Corps in different areas along the West Coast. The idea soon traveled east and grew. More than 100 years later, the fundraiser remains a staple of the holiday landscape.
This year, red kettles will be stationed at both Findlay Walmart and Kroger stores, Great Scot, Big R, Hobby Lobby and possibly Big Lots. Volunteers must be 18 or older, with some exceptions made through parental consent.
Kettles will be manned from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, a day typically split into two shifts, though volunteers can take the entire day if desired. The kettles are not out on Sundays or Thanksgiving Day.
“It can be a church group. It can be a civic group or just somebody that feels like they want to do something for the community,” Mike said.
Volunteers should dress in layers, though Mike said he does take compassion on those bitter winter days.
“When it gets really cold, we either pull them in or do something. But even in the cold weather, the need is still there, so we need the help,” said Mike.
Greeting people is especially important while manning the kettles, noted Dianna.
“Saying hi, it’s amazing how many times if you say hi, people will come back and put money in,” she said. “If you just stand there and ring, they just walk by you.”
Applications for Christmas help will be taken Monday through Oct. 26 and Oct. 29 through Nov. 1. A Christmas dinner box is provided, and children ages 14 and younger will receive toys.
“We want to help as much as we can. That’s why we’re hoping on a good kettle season and hope people think of us with donations,” said Mike.
Anyone who is not comfortable putting money in the kettle can mail a check to the Salvation Army at 301 Center St. Specify on the memo line if the gift is intended to be used for the kettle drive, food or toys.
“That way, it’s very specific and it’s where their heart is,” said Mike. “If you want all the money to go to toys, 100 percent is going to toys and we’ll shift funds around to take care of something else.”
Donations of unwrapped new toys will also be accepted. A drive-by toy drop-off is planned from 5:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Dec. 7 in conjunction with 13 ABC’s Hope for the Holidays program.
A canned food drive is also being held in the Findlay City Schools. Dianna said the winning class in each school will receive a pizza party. Volunteers from Marathon will pick up and sort the donations.
Toy packing is set for the week of Dec. 10, and food and toys will be distributed the week of Dec. 17.
Anyone interested in being a bell ringer this holiday season should call the Salvation Army at 419-422-8238.