The Salvation Army’s red kettles are a sign of the holiday season.
Almost as ubiquitous are its angel trees, decorated with angels bearing the Christmas wish lists of children in need aged birth to 18 from around the community, waiting to be adopted by people with the means to make those wishes come true.
With no local Salvation Army office or director, however, this year’s efforts have been exponentially harder.
Funds generated in Geary County stay in Geary County, but when donations fall short that cuts both ways. Funds generated here have to sustain local efforts throughout the year and lately those funds have been thin on the ground.
Angel Tree Coordinator Hadiyah Dansby and Kettle Coordinator Jeff Efford stepped in to make sure everything went smoothly in the Salvation Army’s efforts this season.
They’re working on a volunteer basis.
Dansby is a longtime volunteer with the local Salvation Army, having worked with the group since 1985. She has worked on the angel tree program many times before, she said, and knows its ins and outs.
"I know if I don't do it, it may not get done,” Dansby said. "And then if somebody else did it, they would struggle trying to put it together. So you know, I just said okay, I’ll do it."
Efford, for his part, chose to volunteer as kettle coordinator this year because he likely won’t be able to spend time with his own children this holiday season. His hope, he said, is to help as many children as possible.
The money raised through the kettles won’t just go to help children. Salvation Army funds are used locally to help people in emergency situations with bills such as electricity and rent.
It’s important, Efford said, to contribute where he can. He has many friends who have needed Salvation Army services in the past. Need is vast in the Junction City community, he said, but help is not always readily available for those in need.
“We're community together and we've got to help each other,” Efford said. “When you have that extra little money, put that little extra money in there. If it doesn't hurt you — oh, believe me is going to help someone else in the community.”
In terms of donations, Dansby’s biggest need is gifts for teenagers. Many people, she said, spring for gifts for younger children — toys and similar items.
However, she has about 30 teens on her list who need gifts who she fears could be overlooked.
"I really would appreciate if I could get somebody to say, 'hey, let me take a handful of those teenagers for you' and actually buy the teenager something,” Dansby said. “Because what I've requested is something like a gift card and a watch. Teenagers, they don't even ask because they know what they want (is) expensive stuff like tablets and computers."
At this time, in addition to needing donations, the Salvation Army also needs volunteers.
Dansby needs adults over the age of 18 to help prepare angel tree gifts and deliver them.
Efford needs bell ringers. The kettle campaign will continue until Dec. 23, as long as there are people present to ring the bells. Slots are open throughout the day, from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. at the Walmart Supercenter, the Walmart Neighborhood Market and Dillons.
At this time, the Salvation Army cannot afford to pay its local volunteers anything.
Dansby said she worried this could make some people less willing to help, especially with the bell ringing — the hours for which range from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. daily.
“There's a lot of people that are not going to ring bells because they're not getting paid, which is unfortunate,” she said. "I never got paid and I was out there freezing — you couldn't even recognize me once I turned blue.”
Dansby still takes part in the ringing.
"I can give two hours at a time now because of my own personal health,” she said.
Donations may be down, but need is up, according to Dansby.
Dansby and Efford have help, though they can always use more volunteers — more people willing to reach out and assist their neighbors.
The Fraternal Order of Eagles routinely adopts large numbers of angel tree children, buying up to $100 in gifts for each child.
According to Eagles Junior Past President Melinda Smelley, the Eagles have taken part in this practice for about 15 years and the number of children helped each Christmas has only grown.
"When they first started, we would do 20 kids,” she said. "Then we went to 50. Then we went to — what? — 75? Of course, now we're up 150.”
For Smelley and her fellow Eagles , it’s all about the children — she takes pride in helping children in need.
Efford said he has received help from community members and from local elementary schools, who send students for about an hour during the school day to ring the bells.
Sometimes, Efford said, it has seemed to him as though not enough people were willing to reach out and help others.
However, his mindset has shifted as he has taken on tasks as a volunteer.
“I have seen a lot of people coming for and contributing,” he said. "So that has made, you know, my attitude change, because I am seeing a lot of giving people now that I'm in this.”
Kettles are located at Walmart Supercenter, the Walmart Neighborhood Market and Dillons. Angel trees are located at Freddy’s, Geary Community Hospital, and the Chef and I.
People who want to donate angel tree gifts may select an angel and bring new, unwrapped gifts back to these respective locations with the angel’s identifying information attached by Dec. 18.
For more information about the Salvation Army or to volunteer, call the United Way office (785) 238-2117.