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Salvation Army bell ringers out early

Tonya Livingston, bell ringer for the Salvation Army stands outside of Kmart in Covington Tuesday.

Tonya Livingston, bell ringer for the Salvation Army stands outside of Kmart in Covington Tuesday.

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Tonya Livingston, bell ringer outside of Kmart in Covington, began asking shoppers to fill her kettle on Nov. 1. This year's Salvation Army campaign will be extended due to the economy which brings less funds and more demand.

CONYERS -- Halloween just passed us and Thanksgiving is three weeks away, but the Salvation Army bell ringers, a familiar sight during the Christmas season, are already out to help fund community programs.

The red kettles began appearing at retail shopping centers in Rockdale, Newton and Walton counties Tuesday with volunteers ringing bells for donations. Chrissy Busbee, volunteer coordinator at the Salvation Army office in Covington, said the economy is having an effect on the local organization this year. Demand has been high this year for services for food, clothing, and assistance in paying utility bills, and the Salvation Army budget has not kept up.

"The needs have grown so great in Newton and Rockdale counties that in order just to balance out, to be able to help the number of people we're helping out now, we had to start early," Busbee said.

The Salvation Army has a goal of raising $65,000 this year through red kettle donations, which Busbee said will be enough to sustain programs.

"It's the backbone of our budget," she said of the red kettle drive.

Eighty percent of all donations stay in the communities where they are raised. One of the biggest programs offered is to send underprivileged children to summer camp each year.

The Salvation Army also operates a food bank. Busbee said they have had a difficult time keeping it stocked due to the demand.

"Our food bank has run out of food six times in the past year. We've had to turn people away," she said. "As a matter of fact, we open our financial assistance office each day at 9:30 a.m. and by 11:30 a.m. we're completely out of funds. The county has just grown so big, the need is growing with it."

The Salvation Army is seeking volunteers bell ringers to help with the extended drive. The Rotary Club of Rockdale County, Covington Rotary Club and church groups have helped ring bells in the past.

For more information, call Busbee at the Salvation Army at 770-786-2107.