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Salvation Army turns to Internet for help Lack of bell ringers leads to new Web site

The red kettles that Salvation Army volunteers have used for 131 years to collect donations for the needy are still in front of stores this season, although Niagara Falls and Tonawanda units say they need more help on weekdays. The holiday campaign also has moved to the Internet for the first time.

The Salvation Army National Headquarters has introduced the Online Red Kettle Web site, at www.onlineredkettle.org. At the site, people who want to volunteer but don't have the time or the strength to ring bells outside local stores can begin a fundraising campaign, choosing a Salvation Army unit to receive donations.

"It was a national decision, and we're hoping to benefit all the service unit areas," said Mary Stronach, spokeswoman for the Empire State Division of the Salvation Army. "[Online] is the wave of the future, and the Salvation Army knows there are people who want to be supportive and cannot go out and ring the bells because they're elderly or busy, and this is a way they can help."

Individuals, groups or businesses can log on to the Web site and sign up to host a kettle. Then they can send out e-mails to associates, family members and friends asking for donations.

The site will only be available until Dec. 31, and all donations made to the site before the end of the year will be tax-deductible, Stronach said.

"We have no idea what to expect but are very excited about it," Stronach said. "The Salvation Army always works under an extremely tight budget. Those [unit] officers, what they can do with a dollar I can't do with five."

While the Salvation Army of Lockport unit believes it will meet a $75,000 goal for fundraising this holiday season, the Niagara Falls unit and the Salvation Army of the Tonawandas both are reporting a shortage of volunteers.

"The online program is something we welcome because any source to increase the donations will help us serve the needy," said Niagara Falls Maj. David Cedervall.

"We're a couple thousand behind the total we had last year at this point."

"We have a lot of volunteers on weekends, but we're not doing good during the week, so we're having to pay people to stand during the week," he added.

Cedervall said the Niagara Falls unit has visited nursing homes and hospitals and put together toy and grocery baskets for the needy with donations. The Niagara Falls unit, which raised $57,000 last year, hopes to raise $60,000 this year.

The Tonawanda unit has set its goal at $70,000, and Corps Assistant Debbie Hills said it has been "slow going."

"With the faith in God and graciousness of people out there, I think we can make our goal," she said.

Cedervall and Hills said they are still looking for volunteers to ring the bells and collect donations for the Red Kettle program before the campaign ends Dec. 23. Those interested can call the Niagara Falls unit at 283-7697 or the Tonawanda unit at 693-3110, or visit www.redkettles.org.

e-mail: gfranklin@buffnews.com

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