County Salvation Army begins first Christmas in July

BY AMY SKARNULIS | JULY 24, 2012 6:30 AM

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This week, customers of Hy-Vee, Walmart, and Walgreens in Johnson County will hear the kettle bells that normally remind shoppers that Christmas is coming.

The Johnson County Salvation Army is holding a new initiative called the Christmas in July to raise $15,000. From Monday through Saturday, volunteers will ring bells next to Red Kettles outside select stores in Iowa City and Coralville to meet the goal.

Lia Pontarelli, the director of development and communications for the Johnson County Salvation Army, said the organization has only 28 percent of the 265 volunteers needed as of Monday afternoon.

"We are really looking to our community right now to help with this," Lt. William Richardson said in a press release about the campaign. "By having a volunteer at a Red Kettle stand, people are much more likely to donate. An unmanned kettle typically means an empty kettle, and empty kettles won't allow us to reach out to the community the way it needs us to."

Pontarelli said local Salvation Army officials started the campaign as a way to combat typically low donations during the summer months. This, she said, is because people tend to take vacations or leave the area.

"What people don't realize is that we're here all year," she said. "Our expenses in the summer do not go down like our donations do."

Some of the Salvation Army expenses include opening the doors earlier than normal as a cooling center for people in the heat as well as taking kids to a day camp free of charge, she said.

Although the organization has not yet reached its goal in volunteers, the people who have decided to get involved are happy to do it.

Iowa City resident Barb Davis said she saw the Salvation Army needed volunteers in the newspaper and decided to sign up. She worked a two-hour shift on Monday afternoon at the Walmart near Highway 1.

"I thought, Why not, since we're gone all winter," she said. "I now have a whole new respect for people who do this in the winter."

Todd Fox, store manager of the Waterfront Hy-Vee, said the store has bell ringers signed up, but he was unaware about how many. Even with the out-of-season timing of the campaign, he said, the store has heard good feedback.

"We've only had positive comments [from customers] about the fact they are doing it," he said. "We also donated water to the Salvation Army to help hydrate the volunteers outside."

The Salvation Army will continue the events this week.

There will be a superhero costume contest Friday to help fight the heat, and Salvation Army officials want people to dress up in Christmas attire on Saturday.

Officials decided to have the campaign last only a week because of the warm weather.

Volunteers who have decided to endure the heat and give up a couple hours of their day help move the campaign in the right direction to meet their goal, Pontarelli said.

"If anyone can volunteer their time in any way, it makes a huge difference in our community," she said.

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