Given this area's high unemployment figures, record number of home foreclosures and a sluggish housing market, The Salvation Army isn't sure what to expect with the traditional holiday giving period.
If the response to the first-ever Kettle Kickoff Extravaganza event last Thursday is any indication, feelings of gloom and doom may be premature.
Capt. Raymond Erickson-King, commander of Merced's Salvation Army Corps branch, said the Kettle Kickoff goal was $5,000 but $6,876 was received from the 80 people attending the first-ever event.
"That gives us a great starting point for the season. We did much better than anticipated," Erickson-King said. In his 9½ years with the corps, this was the best start ever.
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Jim Tolladay, of Merced, chairman of The Salvation Army Advisory Board, expects a large number of people will need help this year.
"The Salvation Army is always there on the front lines, wherever they are needed. The Salvation Army has a reputation to getting the money where it's needed with the least overhead," Tolladay said.
A retired engineer who has been on the advisory board about eight years, Tolladay said he is involved with United Methodist Church, Habitat for Humanity and The Salvation Army, all worthwhile organizations.
Fellow board member Sandra Kratzer of Atwater is optimistic about what the Salvation Army can accomplish.
"I know it's a hard year for a lot of people but I feel good we can make this (relief) happen and make a difference in people's lives. The statistics of the people we serve is quite impressive, for a small organization in a 100-year-old building and with a tight budget," Kratzer said.
A retired educator, Kratzer said she and her husband saw ample evidence of Salvation Army outreach during a tour of Third World countries. She considers it her job in life to "give something back."
Erickson-King hopes next year's Kettle Kickoff will be an even bigger event. Money collected from the Kettle Kickoff will go to food baskets and holiday relief efforts.
Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at 209-385-2485 or firstname.lastname@example.org.