Lending a hand: Discover the reason for the season

"The American public looks for it, they expect it, they bring their children to teach them how to give back to charity," said George E. Hood, the organization's national community relations secretary, of the iconic kettle. "It's just a part of the holiday season and if it's not there people are disappointed."

Hood has been involved with the Salvation Army for 44 years, a tenure that started as a 10-year-old bell ringer in the usually frigid air of Hamilton, Ohio, north of Cincinnati. "I can remember even that young age shoppers coming by and they saw this little kid ringing the bell, freezing cold and just out of sympathy for me they would put money into the red kettle," said Hood, who noted that people would often bring him hot chocolate during his shift. One patron even went so far as to give him a roasted chicken every Saturday "so I wouldn't get hungry while I was out there."

According to Hood, there will be approximately 25,000 bell ringers across the country at any given time, working to collect donations for one of closet to 7,000 Salvation Army branches. The volunteers string together a total of 12-hour shifts six days a week. "That takes up a lot of man hours and it's critical that we have a strong presence of volunteers because that makes the whole campaign for more cost efficient than if we have to pay somebody to be there," Hood said.

Although the bell ringing campaign officially starts the day after Thanksgiving (Nov. 23 this year) and ends Christmas Eve, various chapters often have elongated times of operation to help raise as much money as possible for their causes which include buying toys, feeding families and paying heating bills.

Last year, Salvation Army bell ringers raised a total of $147 million, all of which goes back to the branch affiliated with that bell ringer. Hood said that the amount of donations has steadily increased over the past six years. In fact, during the three years of the recent recession, that amount has swelled by $25 million. "It's basically the love affair that the American public has the red kettle. We've been on the streets with red kettles since 1891," Hood said.

There are plenty of other opportunities, though, to volunteer this holiday season through the Salvation Army. The organization's annual total of 2.5 million volunteers of record also include working at toy shops where toys are being distributed to needy families, working to oversee the Angel Tree program at local malls where people donate gifts for a child after selecting a paper angel and visiting and bringing simple gifts to the elderly and sick at nursing homes, shut-ins and hospitals.

For those interested in joining in one of the Salvation Army's many campaigns, it is recommend to visit one's local branch, which can be found through on the front page of the SA's website by typing in one's zip code.

Here are few other national organizations that could always use more helping hands this holiday season:

  • Volunteer Match: The site connects those interested to volunteer opportunities through an extensive database that can search either by location or keywords. In addition to finding volunteer opportunities, visitors can also recruit volunteers for their own cases through a vast network.
  • United Way: Search for a wide arrange of opportunities, including serving food at an area shelter.
  • One Warm Coat: The site contains a feature that shows where one can donate a coat anywhere in the country as well as tips and resources to hold a successful coat drive.
  • American Red Cross: Holiday Mail For Heroes: Host a card-sending party or send a holiday card and donation on your own. All of the cards will go to overseas members of the U.S. military.

  • Meals On Wheels: Join the national initiative to deliver food to seniors who are incapable of leaving their homes.
  • Toys For Tots: Host a local event, find a local toy drop off location or make a monetary donation to the national program, which is run by the U.S. Marine Corps since 1947.
  • The Holiday Project: The national organization specializes in visiting people confined in nursing homes, hospitals and other institutions
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