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story.lead_photo.caption Sandy Thomas, right, puts money into The Salvation Army Red Kettle in front of Belk in Conway. Also pictured is her mother, Ruth Holsted, and bell-ringer Anthony Marrall, dressed as Santa. Capt. Patrishia Knott, corps officer for The Salvation Army Conway Corps, said donations are down this year, and volunteer bell-ringers are desperately needed.

CONWAY — Capt. Patrishia Knott said The Salvation Army is in “desperate need” of volunteer bell-ringers for the red kettles in Conway.

Donations are down, too, Knott said.

The Red Kettle Campaign kicked off Nov. 15,

but all the bell-ringers were being paid. Volunteers, such as civic clubs and church and school groups, haven’t signed up this year as in the past.

“We haven’t heard from them this year,” Knott said. “I don’t know if it seems Christmas got here so quickly ….”

The Salvation Army expects to have employees for the season, Knott said.

“We don’t mind having to pay,” she said. However, a mixture of volunteers and employees is needed to keep expenses down.

“We always try to have paid [bell-ringers] because it gets those people who are trying to get back working; it gets them in a regular routine. And sometimes they get hired where they’re ringing — the employer gets to see how dependable that person is … see how they perform.”

Individuals are asked to sign up for a two-hour slot, preferably, Knott said.

“A group could sign up for a four-hour slot, and people in the group could do one hour each, and that works really good.”

To sign up, contact The Salvation Army on its Facebook page, or call the office at (501) 329-1712.

The Salvation Army Conway Corps covers Faulkner, Cleburne, Perry and Van Buren counties. Kettles also are at Walmart Supercenters in Clinton and Heber Springs.

Anthony Marrall of Conway is a paid, full-time bell-ringer. He dresses as Santa, a costume he bought at a garage sale, to enhance the experience for himself and shoppers.

“It’s a six-week gig to me,” he said. “It’s entertaining kids.”

Marrall dresses as a clown and works as a “waver” outside a business during tax season, putting his juggling skills to use. His goal is to become a professional clown, he said.

This is the first time he’s ever rung a bell for The Salvation Army.

“They’ve been ringing the bell since 1891. That’s when they started this tradition, and I’m glad to be part of it,” he said.

On Black Friday, it was cold and wintry, he said. A woman started singing “Santa Claus is coming to town” “in this beautiful voice. It was one of those times I won’t ever forget,” he said.

At about the same time that day, Marrall said, his daughter and 2-year-old grandson, Ollie, walked up. The toddler thought Marrall was the real Santa, Marrall said.

On this unseasonably warm day, he was in a shopping center. He handed a sucker to 2-year-old DaNelle Johnson of Morrilton.

A shopper stuck a check in his kettle, after asking his approval.

“This is my first check, but we do accept checks,” he said.

The fundraising goal is $138,000 this year, just slightly up from last year, Knott said.

“Right now, we’re about $3,000 behind donations last year at this time,” she said more than a week ago.

“A lot of people don’t carry cash anymore. We all used to carry change so we could use pay phones, and pay phones don’t even exist anymore. They can still go online and give,” she said.

The website is salvationarmyaok.org, and there is a donate button.

The Red Kettle Campaign is The Salvation Army Conway Corps’ only annual fundraiser. A year-round thrift store provides ongoing money for operations.

“It’s basically our operating fund; it helps us to have that case worker there to provide services. Without a case worker, we would have to cut back [on services]. It helps with buying the food for the pantry, things not donated. We have a budget that we take out of the operating fund that we use for rent and utilities,” Knott said.

“This year, we have emergency-shelter and food-program money, but that doesn’t cover everything, so we take a little bit out of our operating fund to do assistance.”

A grant the agency applied for was not received.

The Salvation Army Conway Corps provided a Thanksgiving meal for the homeless this year.

“We talk to the homeless and ask what they need; sometimes we think we know what they need,” she said. “Little things like ChapStick, socks and gloves can do wonders.”

In 2013, a kettle in Conway received a South African Krugerrand from an anonymous person; then two 24-karat triangular gold bouillons appeared in another kettle.

Knott said that would be wonderful, but she’ll take more volunteers and every dollar she can get.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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