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This holiday season may look different but the Salvation Army’s bell ringers are keeping the Red Kettle Christmas Campaign tradition going strong.

You may hear the ring of their bells or spot the familiar red kettles at Hy-Vee, Fareway, Wal-Mart, Theisen’s and Hobby Lobby.

Salvation Army Capt. Pam Kasten said the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the number of bell ringer volunteers this year. Some service organizations that would normally volunteer for a weekly shift are not participating because of health concerns.

Volunteers are asked to donate hours during ringing times, 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Mon-Sat. They are asked to ring for a minimum of two hours at a time.

Kasten said there are still 1,326 hours that need to be filled through the end of the campaign at 3 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 24.

Extra precautions are being taken to provide a safe and sanitary environment for bell ringers. They are provided with sanitary wipes. All materials are cleaned between shifts. The kettles are cleaned regularly. Donators are asked to keep socially distanced from bell ringers. They are not required to wear the traditional red aprons this year as those are usually shared.

Ringers can stand or sit during their shifts. Two of the locations — Hy-Vee and Theisen’s — are indoors.

The Red Kettle Campaign goal for Marshall County is $72,100. It began on Nov. 13, about a week earlier than it normally would as the Salvation Army anticipated some difficulty reaching goals during the normal time frame due to COVID-19.

“We are currently at 13 percent (of the overall goal). We’ve brought in almost $10,000,” Kasten said. “We are right on target to do what we did last year.”

The campaign got a big boost on Monday as the Marshalltown Police and Fire Departments manned the storefronts in a competition to see who could raise more. They raised more than $2,100 combined.

Kasten said the competition looked like it was going to the fire department volunteers, but a surprise in the police’s bucket may have led to a comeback.

“The fire department, when I picked up their bucket they said ‘We were going to rent space in the police department’s bucket because we were running out of room,’” she said. “It was one of the fullest buckets I had ever seen.”

The surprise later found in the police department’s bucket? It was a gold bar. Kasten said someone has been anonymously leaving a gold bar in the red kettles every year. While counting the donations, Marshall County Sheriff Steve Hoffman — who also volunteers on the Salvation Army Board — found the gold bar wrapped in a dollar bill.

“That was an exciting find in a kettle,” Hoffman said. “it’s another example of the incredible generosity of Marshalltown and the Marshall County community where time and time again people step forward and provide for people in need. Whoever this is — I suspect it’s the same individual — has a very generous, benevolent heart.”

The Salvation Army uses donations from the Red Kettle Campaign to raise a quarter of its annual budget. This helps fund a variety of its programs such as providing toys to children for Christmas, purchasing food, rent assistance, education and sending children to summer camp.

There is also a mail fundraising campaign underway through Dec. 31. The goal for that campaign is $65,500.

Contact Joe Fisher at jfisher@timesrepublican.com

RED KETTLE CHRISTMAS CAMPAIGN BELL RINGERS

To register as a volunteer bell ringer visit registertoring.com