AUGUSTA — The local Salvation Army’s red kettles and the volunteers who use them to collect money to help those in need are on a record-breaking pace so far this holiday season, even as others report a decline in donations.

Good thing, because the need is greater than ever, say group officials.

“It’s going really well,” Capt. Matthew Morrison said of the Salvation Army’s Augusta Corps efforts to raise money in the weeks leading up to Christmas. “The community has been very supportive. There are more people in need than ever. Fortunately, there are also more people in the community giving.”

The red kettles, at six locations around Augusta, have already brought in nearly as much as the $32,000 they raised all last season, with several days and two busy shopping weekends left until Christmas eve, when the kettles will be packed up until next year. Their goal for this season is $50,000, which would eclipse the most the Augusta Corps has ever raised in a single season — $43,700.

“We’re hopeful,” Morrison said of surpassing the local record. “It has been going really good this year.”

While donations are up so far this year, the need for help has been going up nearly every year, it seems.

Morrison said they’ve got 310 families seeking help this year, up by 60 from the previous year. And the previous year was up about 50 families from the year before that.

“Every year the need is climbing,” said Morrison, commanding officer of the Augusta Corps, who is in his fourth season in Augusta with his wife, Capt. Wendy Morrison.

The Christmas Kettle campaign accounts for about 80 percent of the organization’s funding for the year. It provides Christmas gifts for children, food for families in need, heating assistance, rental assistance and funds the general operating expenses of the organization.

Morrison said the organization gets about 30 phone calls a day from people looking for help buying heating fuel.

Morrison said a new program in which the Salvation Army challenges area churches, civic organizations, service clubs and businesses to man the red kettles for a day each — and recognizes such groups that raise more money than others in their category with an award — has likely helped fundraising efforts this year.

Food donations are also up, although so far they haven’t received much meat to add to the 310 food baskets which will be distributed. However, Morrison noted that meat comes in late most years, which isn’t entirely bad, because they don’t have a lot of storage space for it anyway.

The Salvation Army, through its Angel tags program, also provides gifts to children, in cooperation with numerous area stores where shoppers can pick up a tag which gives a child’s gender and age and their wish list.

Morrison said Tuesday that those gifts have been slow coming in, with only enough for about 15 families.

But, by Wednesday, the pace had picked up considerably, with Morrison saying they received “a ton” of donated items.

The deadline for gifts for that program is 5 p.m. today, although people with donations after that deadline won’t be turned away, Morrison said.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

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