A sour economy didn't stop more than 1,000 people Thursday from digging deep into their hearts and wallets and giving more than $227,000 at a Salvation Army fund-raiser at Modesto Centre Plaza.
That's the most the Modesto nonprofit has raised in the 17 years it has held its annual Kettle Kick-Off event. The previous high was $199,000 in 2005 when the economy still was flush and people had more money in their pockets. Last year brought in $175,000.
Maj. Darvin Carpenter thanked everyone and said their generosity would make a huge difference in the lives of homeless men, women, teens and children.
"More will have hope now, because of you," he told the crowd.
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The money raised Thursday included $20,000 from James Conforti and Paul DeChant, chief executive officers of Memorial Medical Center and Sutter Gould Medical Foundation, respectively. The donation was part of a larger effort by their parent organization, Sutter Health, to give money to Northern California food banks.
The luncheon marked the beginning of holiday fund-raising for The Salvation Army in the region. From today through Dec. 24, about two dozen Salvation Army bell ringers with their red kettles will be raising money at shopping centers and other locations throughout Modesto, Ceres and Riverbank.
The money will provide toys and food to needy families in Modesto, Riverbank and Ceres for Christmas and will help fund The Salvation Army's other programs. The Army helped more than 3,300 families last year with Christmas toys and food and the number is expected to grow this year.
Carpenter said his agency also has seen an increase in requests for help with utility bills, rent and food.
The luncheon featured seven frenzied minutes when more than 60 bell ringers armed with kettles raced from table to table collecting donations. A nine-piece Salvation Army brass band accompanied them with such holiday classics as "Jingle Bells," competing with the clang of ringing bells.
And a thousand $1 bills slowly tumbled from the rafters. The money — released by city employees and given by an anonymous donor — was intended to encourage giving and was stuffed into kettles.
The luncheon crowd then waited as Salvation Army officials and about two dozen volunteers counted the day's take in a nearby room.
The counters often were silent, intent on their work, the only sound the swoosh of tens of thousands of dollars being counted.
But it was music to the ears of Brian Aird, The Salvation Army's business coordinator.
"That's the sound of generosity," he said. "That's the sound of charity, the sound of hope, the sound of service."
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2316.