BIG RAPIDS — Though the official Red Kettle Kick-Off wasn't until Saturday, the bells of Salvation Army volunteers could be heard Thursday advertising the red donation kettles.

The Red Kettle Campaign will run through Saturday, Dec. 23. This year's goal is $120,000, up from last year's collection total of $110,194.

The local Salvation Army office has kettles at 10 locations in Mecosta, Osceola and Newaygo counties. Kettles will be by each door of Walmart in Big Rapids and Fremont; at Big Lots, Walgreens and JC Penney in Big Rapids; at Vic's Supermarket in Reed City; Foster's Supermarket in Evart; and Leppinks in Newaygo.

"We definitely still have openings for volunteer bell-ringers," said Chris Vallette, development director. "We have about 200 shifts left to fill in Big Rapids and Reed City and Evart have a plethora of openings. In Newaygo and Fremont, we'll take any bell ringers we can get."

To volunteer for a bell ringing shift, people can contact the Salvation Army at (231) 796-5597 or go online at

On Saturday, Nov. 18, the Red Kettle Kick-Off took place during the Ferris State University hockey game in Ewigleben Arena.

"We're going to have a ceremonial puck drop and a teddy bear toss," Vallette said prior to the event. "All donations we receive that day up to $5,000 will be matched by McDonald Chrysler."

Thursday, Vallette stopped by some of the Big Rapids bell ringing locations to check in with volunteers. At Big Lots, he stopped to talk to Larry Buys, who is an early and frequent volunteer at that location.

"I love this job," Buys said with a smile. "I just enjoy when the kids come by and people come in to donate. It helps out the community. I think it's wonderful thing, and I'm glad to help the community."

Buys is scheduled for approximately 60 to 70 hours of bell-ringing, Vallette said. Salvation Army officials depend on volunteers like Buys to fill the roster, but when there's a empty spot, other people, like Charlie Halladay, step up to fill in the gaps, he noted.

"Charlie is a huge help to us," Vallette said. "Not only does he help at our community center, but he does fill-in shifts for bell ringing, and has for the last four or five years. Last year, he probably rang for 120 hours at least."

The annual Red Kettle Campaign provides one-third of the Salvation Army office's undesignated funding for the year and helps provide programs ranging from utility assistance to youth summer camps. Again this year, the Salvation Army will be offering Season Pass pins for donors who don't carry cash but want to contribute. The pins are available for $20 and $50 donations, and feature an image of a red kettle on a shield-shaped pin for the donor to wear on their coat.

The variety of local Salvation Army programs are possible thanks to the donations of people like Jackie Roman, who stopped by the kettle at Walgreens on Thursday to give.

"I donate all the time to the Salvation Army," she said. "I think they help everybody out, and they're always so friendly and courteous, and always say 'Thank-you.'"