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Mike Kuhn remembers a story about giving that he says touched his heart during the Christmas season. 

Kuhn, who has volunteered many years during the Salvation Army’s annual Red Kettle campaign, was ringing a bell at the old Kmart when a woman and her son approached him. 

“The mother put a dollar or something in, and then her son, who was probably 7 or 8, starts dumping in change and dollar bills out of this Ziplock bag,” said Kuhn. “I made a big deal about this saying, ‘This is a lot of money. … Thank you very much.’ And his mother leans over to me and whispers, ‘He looks forward to this and saves up for months so he can do this.’” 

Moved by the boy’s generosity, Kuhn, who said the Kiwanis Club always handed out candy canes to kids who donated, felt this donation deserved to be rewarded with something extra special. So he briefly abandoned his post to purchase a four-pack of candy bars as a thank you. 

His plan, however, was thwarted when a long line at the checkout counter prevented him from making a quick purchase, so he put the candy back and returned to his post. 

But the story, which Kuhn recently shared at a press event to announce the campaign in his role as a county commissioner, does not end there.

“This man came out and gave me the candy and said he saw what the boy did and what I was trying to do, so he bought the candy and gave it to me,” Kuhn remembered. “I pulled out my wallet to pay him and he said, ‘No, that’s the least I can do.’”

It’s those kinds of stories that warm the heart of corps officer Lt. Ivonne Rodriguez, who said it is a higher power that moves people to give during the holiday season. The goal of this year’s campaign, which is titled “Love Beyond Christmas,” is to raise $93,000 to assist needy Lebanon County families and to fund other programs throughout the year.

“I would say that love is something that you have in your heart and when you have love in your heart, it is the biggest thing a human being can have and it leads you to do so much for others,” said Rodriguez. “God is love, and if I am serving God, I will have love in me.” 

Salvation Army Lt. Marlon Rodriguez, who is Ivonne’s husband, said the need – due to the lingering economic impact from the COVID-19 pandemic, high inflation and other factors – is as great as ever in Lebanon County if not more so. 

Marlon and Ivonne Rodriguez at the Red Kettle Kickoff. (Provided photo)

“There’s great food insecurity, so we have a program that serves over 2,000 people every two weeks,” said Marlon. “The food line is around the block. There’s always food insecurity here, so our goal is to help people become better equipped so that they can bring some confidence back to their lives.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the “army behind the Army” got food to COVID-19 victims in seven counties. (LebTown photo)

Ivonne said the charity has also – through the generosity of local businesses, community members, donors and volunteers – purchased 200 turkeys to distribute to families who have requested assistance during the upcoming holiday, adding they expect to distribute food to a total of 500 families. 

“A lot of people have been coming in asking for emergency food and clothing,” said Ivonne. “Everything is more expensive now and even if people have jobs, they still struggle. We still have a need, so we’re very grateful that people make donations to us.”

The past several years Lebanon Countians have generously opened their wallets and demonstrated the love they have for their neighbors – much like the young boy who looked forward to contributing to the kettle campaign every year.

“Here, in Lebanon County, we have reached our (financial) goal the last two or three years, and sometimes we have surpassed it,” said Marlon, who added that the kettle campaign contributes to 26 percent of the organization’s annual budget. “It’s amazing, really amazing. People are willing to give back to the community and we are grateful for those contributions.”

The charity’s other seasonal fundraiser, Angel Tree, is accepting donations, too. Ivonne said nearly 300 families have registered for assistance this year.

“Companies come to us and ask for 10, 20, 30 or even 50 tags that parents have filled out for their children so that those families can have gifts at Christmas,” said Marlon. “That really shows the love in their hearts for the people of Lebanon County.” 

Of the two programs the Salvation Army runs during the holiday season, the Red Kettle campaign – first launched in 1891 in San Francisco – is the organization’s most visible fundraiser. A total of 15 kettles will be distributed around the county between now and this coming weekend with the campaign kicking off at larger area retailers this Saturday. 

From left to right: Josie Ames, Advisory Board Member; Madison Heisler; Mathew Heisler III; and Melissa Heisler, Board Chairperson. (Provided photo)

What about those shoppers who do their holiday buying online?

Thanks to modern technology, those donors can contribute too, according to Marlon. Those individuals can donate via phone or online. Adding a zip code in the message field ensures the donation is earmarked for the local corps chapter.

“If anybody wants to donate by phone or online who comes to the kettle, there is a barcode that can be scanned that’s located on a stand at the kettle,” added Marlon. 

After the holiday season is over, Red Kettle donations are used to fund other Salvation Army programs.

Kettle donations help the agency to: administer the children’s music program, which offers cost-free music lessons to local children; provide vouchers for clothing and other necessities available at The Salvation Army Thrift Store; and sponsor the Summer Day Camp program that’s attended by 30 children every summer and serve breakfast, lunch and snacks to participants. 

“I believe in their mission, their work, and the impact they have in our community,” said Kuhn about why he’s volunteered at kettle drives over the years with the Kiwanis Club. “The bell ringing is their major fundraiser for the whole year. When you think about it, it’s a lot of nickels, dimes, and quarters. We occasionally get larger gifts, but it’s a lot of people digging in and giving.”

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James Mentzer

James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; and Lancaster...


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