Niles Salvation Army’s Tree of Lights Campaign looking for support in final weeks

NILES — Over the course of the holiday, the red lights on a Main Street Christmas tree have been inching their way to the top of its boughs.

The decorations signify the Niles Salvation Army is moving closer to the Tree of Lights fundraiser campaign goal of $85,000. The deadline to meet that goal is Jan. 31. In this final stretch, the charity organization is hoping the community can help fill the gap. 

This holiday season, bell ringers from across Berrien and Cass counties rang bells to collect funds for the cause.

Thanks to their efforts, the Niles Salvation Army has reached nearly 72 percent of its goal for the campaign, bringing in about $61,000.

The annual fundraiser helps to provide about 75 percent of the Niles Salvation Army’s budget. Proceeds from the campaign will support aid programs for residents of Berrien and Cass counties.

Last year, the Niles Salvation Army faced challenges raising enough money due to a lack of volunteers.  Fortunately, anonymous donations helped to sustain local programs, despite falling short of the fundraising goal.

Lt. Joseph Hixenbaugh said while the organization hopes to reach this year’s goal by the end of the month, he said he was proud to see more volunteers stepping up to help out.

“We did a lot better than last year,” Joseph said. “I think last year, we maybe had 30 to 40 percent coverage on all of our [bell ringing] sites. This year, we had 66 percent coverage.”

Joseph said he attributes the uptick in volunteers this year to the inception of an online sign-up for volunteer shifts.

“That really did help this year. It got us some new volunteers for bell ringing and reconnected [us] with some old volunteers we had not seen,” Hixenbaugh said.

Joseph said he believes that making the campaign more visible this year with the Tree of Light helped to pique interest. The tree will return to track progress for next Christmas’ campaign. 

To make their goal, Hixenbaugh said they need to raise about $23,849 more. If they are not able to meet their goal, Hixenbaugh said local programs are not in jeopardy, but that they will have to do some prioritizing, such as waiting to buy new equipment or adjusting the meal menu for youth programming.

“If we don’t make any of that, there are some areas of the budget that we will be trimming a little,” Hixenbaugh said. “We won’t be cutting any of our programs or services or anything.”

Lt. Kendra said reaching their goal will help the Niles Salvation Army extend its efforts to aid residents this year.

“It would allow us to help more families,” Kendra said.

Joseph echoed this sentiment.

“A monetary donation can go a long way to help a number of different families,” Hixenbaugh said. 

Those wanting to contribute to the campaign can donate online at saniles.org. Funds can also be mailed via P.O. Box 1150 Niles, MI 49120 or 424 N. 15th St. Niles. 

The couple said they were grateful for what the community has donated so far. Already, Joseph and Kendra are strategizing for ways to fundraise for next Christmas.

“It’s an all-year-round process,” Hixenbaugh said. “We may have not reached our goal [yet], but we reached a goal in which we can comfortably still operate.”

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