It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas at The Salvation Army’s Indiana Divisional Headquarters in Indianapolis. A manger scene and giant Christmas tree light up the front lawn, where a crowd gathered on Wednesday morning to celebrate the official start of the 2014 Red Kettle Christmas Campaign.

Kettles are popping up in stores across the nation, including here in Central Indiana. With a fundraising goal of $3.3 million, every penny put in a kettle counts. During the months of November and December, The Salvation Army will raise around one third of the funds needed to operate programs and provide services in 2015.

Last year The Salvation Army of Central Indiana provided over 107,000 safe nights of shelter to individuals and families fleeing homelessness and domestic violence. Our feeding programs served more than 509,000 meals to hungry Hoosiers during times of great need. Other programs helped adults conquer addictions, families put gifts under the Christmas tree, and children have the coats, shoes and school supplies they needed. None of this would be possible without the generosity of our community during the annual Red Kettle Christmas Campaign.

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Salvation Army Donut Girls shared coffee, hot cocoa & donuts with guests

Wednesday’s kick-off was emceed by Salvation Army Advisory Board Treasurer Brian Henning, who welcomed many wonderful guests onto the stage to talk about the Christmas season, upcoming events and The Salvation Army’s role in our community.

After a musical welcome from The Salvation Army Brass Band and St. Richard’s Dragonettes, Indiana’s new Divisional Leaders, Majors Bob and Collette Webster, welcomed the crowd and discussed the real needs facing Indianapolis and its surrounding communities.

“You see, The Salvation Army is not just meeting the immediate needs of the hungry and homeless,” Major Webster explained. “We’re providing them with the tools to get back on their feet and regain independence.”

Jason Dudich, Chief of Staff for Mayor Greg Ballard, talked about the children in our community and their specific needs. As a representative of the City of Indianapolis, Dudich expressed the city’s support of The Salvation Army and its efforts to help citizens live safe, enriching lives.

Kroger is a big partner throughout the year and invites our bell ringers to welcome shoppers at stores across Indiana. Jeff Burt, CEO of Kroger’s Central Division, announced a $1 million goal for Kroger kettles this season in hopes of helping even more Hoosiers in 2015.

WISH-TV news anchors Eric Halvorson and Lauren Lowery were also on hand to announce the start of the WISH Tree Toy Drive, which benefits The Salvation Army’s Christmas assistance program, Toy Shop. WISH-TV on-air personalities will be collecting toys at Lucas Oil Stadium before the December 14 Colts game and visiting toy collection sites all around the city on December 3 during the thirds annual Tweet for Toys.

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The Chicks on the Right

Of course, it wouldn’t be Christmas in Indy without the WIBC Radiothon for The Salvation Army Bed & Bread Club, a 36-hour event that is celebrating its 20th Anniversary in 2014. Daisy and Mock from the WIBC show “The Chicks on the Right” challenged kick-off guests to help them raise $250,000 during the December 5-6 event. They, along with other WIBC personalities, will be on air around the clock to ensure that residents of Central Indiana won’t go without food and shelter in 2015.

The Salvation Army’s all-volunteer Women’s Auxiliary and Advisory Board kicked off the fundraising efforts with $2,500 checks in hopes of encouraging individuals, organizations and businesses to give what they can and help neighbors in need.

We also heard from a woman who knows first hand just how vital it is to that help is there when it is needed most. Starshine shared her harrowing story of abuse, life on the streets and being trapped in the sex industry without an escape route. Her story of rescue and rebirth at The Salvation Army’s Ruth Lilly Women and Children’s Center brought cheers and tears from the listening crowd.

As Majors Bob and Collette Webster thanked Starshine for her testimonial, they asked the audience to remember the thousands whose stories would never be told. The lighting of the giant Christmas tree brought with it a message from Major Collette:

“Each day thousands of people drive up and down Meridian Street. As they do, it is our hope that this tree will stand as a holiday symbol of the need of people in our own community and will serve as a daily reminder that The Salvation Army is here each and every day to ensure those needs are met in the best way possible.”

We have just six short weeks until Christmas, so keep an eye out for bell ringers and please donate if you are able. You can also join the campaign by creating an Online Red Kettle, volunteering to ring a bell or donating online. Thank you to everyone who made the kick-off a great success and is working with The Salvation Army this Christmas season to ensure that we can do the most good in 2015.