Volunteer bell-ringers in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, want to bring in enough donations to help pay for holiday food baskets for 900 needy families in the region this year, says Major Marie Harris, Community Relations and Program Development Officer in Williamsport. Fifty local businesses have joined in the fundraising effort by participating in the Festival of Trees, donating and decorating trees in the Lycoming Mall that will be auctioned in mid-December for the benefit of the Salvation Army.
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Major Philip Wittenberg and his wife, both Salvation Army pastors, who are new to their inner city Philadelphia Salvation Army mission, will be coordinating gifts of 4,000 toys and $8,000 in food vouchers from the local Pathmark to the 400 families who applied for assistance this year.
The Philadelphia mission, one of three in the city, is now known as K&A, for Kensington and Allegheny, but is the site of the Pioneer Corps, the first Salvation Army mission in the United States. The Pioneer Corps opened its doors 1879. The K&A Salvation Army mission partners with the Kensington Business Association, a organization of small business owners located in a building under the elevated train, Wittenberg says.
Williamsport’s Festival of Trees, now in its fourth year, has been a great success, according to Major Harris. “Local businesses benefit from the exposure, and the Salvation Army gains visibility and donations.”
Businesses are asked to donate a tree and attach a $100 incentive. “One example this year,” she said, “is the Lewis Lumber Store of Picture Rock, Pennsylvania, who will donate 50 square feet of wainscoting with their tree.” Visitors to the Lycoming mall are invited to donate $1 to vote for their favorite tree and at the end of the festival, prizes are awarded for the People’s Choice Tree and the Best Overall Tree.
Area residents may contribute toys that children have asked for by purchasing them at local stores, Major Harris says. Salvation Army volunteers will pick up the toys and bag them for distribution on December 20. Toys may also be purchased through the Target Store’s Angel Tree.
The Williamsport Salvation Army will be providing needy families with enough food for the whole holiday week, Major Harris says. “Many of the children are getting breakfast and lunch at school, and now with an after-school program, many eat dinner there as well. The added expense of feeding the entire family for a week is more than many families can manage.”
Major Harris was especially grateful for support from the Preit Corporation, which owns the Lycoming Mall, where “our bell-ringer use a small bell, because they are indoors” and where the local Salvation Army quartet provides music through the season.
Backyard Broadcasting has also supported to the Williamsport mission this year by providing free advertising for the Salvation Army’s fund-raising efforts and the businesses that participate in them.
The Williamsport Salvation Army League of Mercy will also be visiting 1,300 shut-ins, Major Harris says.
The Philadelphia K&A mission serves immediate needs, such as addiction and homelessness, through referrals, but hopes to raise enough money to help “with larger ticket items like help with rent for families facing eviction and help with utilities bills,” Major Wittenberg says. The mission plans to enter into a partnership next year with the Aramingo Business Association, which has members like Target and Home Depot.
Wittenberg expects that his group will meet their goal of raising $55,000 through mail-in donations and from their Red Kettle locations
As a church, the K&A mission will observe the holiday season with many social and religious activities. One holiday activity for K&A staff and volunteers will be visiting 1,400 residents of nursing homes.
WalMart is by far the most productive Red Kettle site in Williamsport, Major Harris says. The best sites in Philadelphia are the Suburban Commuter Station, the Reading Markets, WaWa stores and CVS, Wittenberg says.
Major Wittenberg says he has viewed his greatest challenge since arriving in Philadelphia as “getting the word out.”
Major Harris and Wittenberg still need volunteers, for both the Red Kettles and their distribution sites. “When the families come in to pick up their toys, we don’t want anyone waiting in line,” Major Wittenberg says. Families will pick up their toys and vouchers on December 11, 13, and 15th.