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Salvation Army's annual kettle campaign fundraiser under way

Lt. Mitch Brecto stands with a set of donation kettles for the Salvation Army's 2011 kettle campaign, which began Friday. John M. Steiner The Sun

Willie Kamletz begins his morning with bell-ringing.

It's not an alarm clock that gets the 89-year-old moving, but rather, the chime of the Salvation Army signal and its signature red kettle.

The Salvation Army's annual fundraiser began Friday. Its target this year in Jamestown is $118,000, up $13,000 from last year's goal of $105,000, said Lt. Mitch Brecto.

The local branch has experienced need this year in a way it hasn't in recent memory. In September, the church issued a plea, asking the community to restock its supply of food and personal hygiene products as its shelves were emptier than the bargain aisles on Black Friday.

To raise the money, Salvation Army seeks more volunteers like Kamletz, who chimes the bell at Park Plaza Mall from 8:30 a.m. "until somebody relieves me," he said, seven days a week.

Kamletz, a "20-some-odd year" bell-ringing veteran, said soliciting donations at Park Plaza Mall will be especially challenging this year after grocery store County Market closed on Saturday.

Kamletz said he has his best luck with women. Of those that pass by, every third or fourth ones puts money in the crimson kettle.

"They seem like they want to give more," he said. "The men, they're tight."

And the people the Salvation Army serves have tight pockets, too.

One of them is LaJuana Watt of Jamestown.

After her father died earlier this year, Watt, her husband, and their children moved here from Texas in September to be closer to family.

Watt's husband found work at a fast-food restaurant, but money is still tight.

So the Salvation Army offered her groceries as well as coats for her children. After living in Texas, the family didn't own proper apparel for North Dakota winters.

"I asked them if they could help me with warm clothes and a pair of shoes because all I had were flip flops," Watt said.

The Salvation Army in Jamestown supplies food to more than 250 people like Watt and her family. Because of the economy, food pantries across the region have reported donations are down while the need for them rises. In Jamestown, need at the Salvation Army has grown 15 percent since last year.

The trend of increasing need is similar throughout the country. According to recently released census figures, nearly one in six Americans lives in poverty -- a record 46.2 million people. The U.S.'s poverty rate of 15.1 percent is the highest of any major industrialized nation, according to Associated Press reports.

Funds raised during the kettle campaign benefit residents locally. They support area people with emergency lodging, prescription assistance, food, heat and rental assistance. Salvation Army also helps around the state and the country. Local volunteers and staff deployed to Minot this year to help with flood cleanup, repairs and spiritual guidance, Brecto said.

To help, Jamestown area residents can insert their coins in the kettles located at grocery and general stores throughout the city. Or, they can mail a check or donate online at www.thesalarmy.org/jamestown.

The church needs volunteers too. Of the 1,500 hours of bell-ringing between now and Dec. 25, volunteers have only signed up for about 400 of them, Brecto said.

Kamletz said he's never needed the assistance of Salvation Army, and got involved because bell-ringing looked like a good time. He's especially enthusiastic now. After losing his wife, Geneva, last year, Kamletz said he lives alone and likes the opportunity to visit with the local shoppers.

"That way, I get out of the house and do at least some good, as long as I live," he said.

Sun reporter Katie Ryan-Anderson can be reached at 701-952-8454 or by email at kryan-anderson@jamestownsun.com

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