Photo by Johnny Jackson
Jessica Benefield-Smith, of Locust Grove, demonstrates to 3-year-old Aidan Hill, of McDonough, how she rings her bell in support of The Salvation Army's Red Kettle Christmas Campaign.
Jessica Benefield-Smith has volunteered as a bell ringer in The Salvation Army's Red Kettle Christmas Campaign for eight years now. The localized campaign is part of a national effort The Salvation Army to help provide a Christmas to needy families.
"I want children to have Christmas, the elderly to have heat, and the homeless to have hope," said Benefield-Smith, who has spent the past seven years as a volunteer, dancing near the entrance of the Belk department store in McDonough.
The Locust Grove resident is a familiar smile to customers who remember the jingle of the small bells she wears around her ankles and wrists. "It has been real slow," said Benefield-Smith. "Some people can give, and some people can't.
"I'm used to having a bucket so heavy, it's hard to take off the stand," she continued. "This year, I don't have that problem. But, it's a good problem to have; I'd love to have that problem."
She has noticed, over the years, how the downturned economy has impacted the demeanors of holiday shoppers, who appear to be increasingly stressed and depressed.
The bell ringer, and mother of two, noted that she, too, has hit hard times. Her parents lost their home to a house fire in July. She said the fire destroyed her parent's belongings and consumed most of her possessions, too.
"I have every reason to be depressed," she said. "But I won't be; I'm not."
Benefield-Smith is one of 14 bell ringers and volunteers working this holiday season in Henry County, which has seen an increase in need, according to Doug McClure, director of The Salvation Army McDonough Service Center.
"We're trying to assist between 75 and 100 families this year," said McClure, adding that the non-profit organization will likely serve more families than in previous years.
The director said whatever money is raised locally, through the campaign, will be used locally to purchase food and toys for needy, local families.
"Like most charitable organizations, we want to do our part to ensure that no child goes without Christmas," McClure said. "We've all seen the decline in contributions over the last few years, but folks still are trying their best. They may not have as much as they had before, but they are donating what they can."
To learn how to take part in the Red Kettle Christmas Campaign, as a volunteer or donor, contact Mary Green, the local campaign coordinator, through The Salvation Army McDonough Service Center, at (770) 957-8868.
McClure said those interested in making monetary donations may do so mail to The Salvation Army McDonough Service Center, P.O. Box 22, McDonough, Ga. 30253. Or donors may contribute monetarily, or with new toys, visiting the service center, located at 401 Racetrack Road in McDonough.
The service center also is aiding needy families through its Angel Tree Program, he continued. Through Dec. 17, participants in the Angel Tree Program can find paper ornaments at area businesses, inscribed with the first names and interests of needy children.
McClure said the ornaments are located at businesses throughout Henry County, including BJ's Wholesale Club in McDonough, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store and Restaurant in McDonough, Denny's in Locust Grove, and SunTrust Bank on Ga. Highway 81 in McDonough.
Angel Tree Program participants are asked to return the ornaments to the designated business, or to the service center, along with gifts, toys, and clothes for the needy child(ren).