Niles Salvation Army seeks residents to ring bells

NILES — Across Berrien and Cass counties the persistent jingle of merry bells has already begun to fill the air outside a number of businesses. 

The sound signifies the start of the Niles Salvation Army’s Tree of Lights Campaign and the calling for more volunteers to be part of the effort.

Lt. Joseph Hixenbaugh said the bell ringing campaign is the primary fundraiser for the organization, raising 75 percent of its income.

“With [that funding] we are able to help many people in need throughout the year,” Hixenbaugh said. “It also helps us do our Christmas distribution for food and toys.”

The Niles Salvation Army serves part of Berrien and all of Cass County. Through the Niles Salvation Army, people can get help with basic needs, like food, clothing and assistance throughout the holidays. This holiday season approximately 170 families have signed up for the charity organization’s Christmas Assistance program.

The bell ringing began Nov. 9. As of last week, Hixenbaugh said they had so far raised about $6,800 — about 8 percent of the $85,000 fundraising goal.

The charity organization faced challenges last year reaching its goal due to a lack of volunteers. Fortunately, Hixenbaugh said some community donations came through and officials did not have to close any programs. This year, they are hoping that more community members will be willing to step up and help out.

Volunteer shifts are available between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday to Saturday. While Hixenbaugh said he has seen steady volunteer participation, she said as of Friday morning, that there were still 2,763 hours to fill. With each volunteer working about a two-hour shift, Hixenbaugh said it means they need more than 1,000 volunteers to ring bells.

“We are not in crisis just yet, we could still use help,” Hixenbaugh said. “If those hours go unfilled, there will be some concern whether we can make our goal this year.”

The charity organization is trying some new approaches this year to make it easier for volunteers to take part, including the addition of an online signup service. Those interested in volunteering can sign up on registertoring.com and enter the Niles’ zip code 49120. Those who prefer the traditional method can call the Niles Salvation Army to sign up.

This year, people can watch the progress of the campaign. A tree of lights near the Greater Niles Community Federal Credit Union will display a strand of red lights for every $10,000 that the charity organization is able to raise.

“That is our way to let the community know where we are at this year,” Hixenbaugh said.

For those looking for a way to give back this holiday season, bell ringing is the way to do so, Hixenbaugh said.

“It gives them a way for them to help people in need,” Hixenbaugh said. “For a two-hour shift, you can help about 13 families with food throughout the year. It [also] provides a tradition to give back to the community for many families.”

To get involved, people can sign up online or call the Niles Salvation Army at (269) 684-2660. Volunteers must sign up at least 24 hours in advance. 

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