ST. CLAIRSVILLE — The Belmont County Salvation Army kicked off its annual Giving Tree and Red Kettle initiatives Thursday at the Ohio Valley Mall.
For more than 30 years the Salvation Army has held the campaigns, both of which benefit those in need in the county, inside the mall.
Like in 2020, this year the campaign launch looked a little different. Maj. Lewis Patrick said because of COVID-19, they did not invite the local schools to participate in the event. In years past, holiday music was performed by band members from St. John Academy in Bellaire.
“We have limited the availability, but it still doesn’t change the importance of what is going to happen in the days to come,” he said.
Hundreds of children’s names adorn this year’s Giving Tree, set up near the center court next to Great American Cookies. Those interested in giving back to a child in need this holiday season can choose a child’s name tag off the tree, which includes information such as the child’s age and desired gift.
“At this location, because of this (Giving Tree), we’ll be giving out approximately 2,400 gifts to about 600 families. That is what we’re looking at in our community, and that’s why we’re out here collecting money, that’s why we’re out here doing what we’re doing, so we can do the most good within our community. The only way we can do that is by the people who help us every single day,” he said.
The gifts will be distributed to the childrens’ families on Dec. 22 in time for Christmas.
The Red Kettle Campaign was also launched during the event. Lewis said the organization typically collects between $100,000 and $125,000 through the campaign. These funds are used throughout the entire year to help feed and clothe those in need.
Volunteers holding bells beside the kettles will be stationed at various locations throughout the county including at Kroger, Riesbeck’s, Walmart, Big Lots, Sam’s Club, Boscov’s and the mall entrances.
Lewis said COVID-19 has hit people hard this past year and continues to do so. He said it has prevented some people from working, adding that there are a lot of people in need.
“With your help, we can help others,” he said.
In the coming weeks, the army will provide 275 turkeys to families and serve approximately 600 families Thanksgiving dinner.
Additionally, a gift wrapping station is set up inside the former retailer Justice, which closed last summer. Lewis said Salvation Army volunteers wrap gifts at no charge until Christmas Eve, although donations are accepted that will go toward the organization’s efforts.
Lewis said they are grateful for the mall’s continued support over the years.
For more than a decade, mall Manager George Diab always donates the first dollar of the holiday season to the Red Kettle Campaign. He continued that tradition at the conclusion of the event Thursday by placing his donation inside the red container.
“We’re so happy to be a part of this and to help facilitate helping people in the valley,” he said of the initiative.