In an average holiday season, the Salvation Army's Red Kettle campaign generates about $500,000.

In an average holiday season, the Salvation Army's Red Kettle campaign generates about $500,000.

This year, the Salvation Army in Greater Columbus hopes to raise $645,000 through Red Kettle donations in Franklin and Delaware counties.

Alice Hohl, spokeswoman for the organization, said Red Kettle donations held steady even

during the recent economic recession.

"The generous people of central Ohio have maintained their level of support for us," she said. "Our biggest challenge has been the number of people seeking our help has increased greatly."

Red Kettle donations are used to provide Salvation Army services throughout the year. Funds support the operation of five food pantries and help people with basic needs, including utilities, clothing and sometimes rental assistance, Hohl said.

The organization also offers a comprehensive program to assist the homeless. Hohl described it as a "big, complicated program that we were recently asked to replicate in 80 counties throughout Ohio."

An annual Christmas assistance program provides 7,000 families with a holiday food basket and a toy for each child younger than 12.

This year's Red Kettle campaign began Nov. 20, and will run through Dec. 24. Bell-ringers staff approximately 88 kettles throughout central Ohio, working in four-hour shifts. More than 6,500 shifts must be covered, Hohl said.

Some bell-ringers are volunteers and some are paid workers.

"Although we would like to have all volunteer workers, it is an opportunity for us to help provide for seasonal workers who have a hard time finding work in the winter," she said.

Bell-ringers typically work at retail locations, including Kroger, Walmart, Sam's Club, Andersons, Huffman's Market, the North Market and at Easton.

The Salvation Army welcomes bell-ringers with talents they would like to share.

"We have a great ensemble that is affiliated with the Salvation Army, the Chapel Brass," Hohl said. The band frequently performs at the Andersons on Sawmill Road and in other north Columbus locations.

"The bell-ringers are kind of a sign of the season and it's nice to have as much of that atmosphere as possible," she said.

Individuals or groups who would like to volunteer for the Red Kettle campaign may access a sign-up form online at www.salvationarmycolumbus.org. They may also call the volunteer hotline at (614) 304-1090.

Hohl said the organization also has a "big need" for toy donations throughout the Christmas season. More information about the organization's several toy drive programs is available online.