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Brooke-Hancock Salvation Army prepares to ring bells

HELPING OUT — Flanked by members of the Wellsburg Kiwanis Club, Lt. Gene Hunt, commander of the Brooke-Hancock Salvation Army, accepted a $500 donation raised by the group’s recent rose sale. On hand for the presentation were, from left, front, Kiwanis member Ellen Daugherty; Hunt; Eric Fithyan, the group’s president; and Kiwanis members Audrae Bryant and Bob Haas; and back, Sean Jackson. (Photo by Warren Scott)

As the Christmas season approaches, many are adjusting to changes brought on by the pandemic, but something that hasn’t changed are the financial troubles experienced by many of their fellow residents and the Brooke-Hancock Salvation Army’s efforts to make the holidays brighter for them.

“We’re doing what we traditionally do. I wanted to keep some normalcy. We’ve had some issues but it’s coming together pretty well,” said Salvation Army Lt. Gene Hunt.

Whether concerns about COVID-19 shuttered their workplaces or they lost work hours due to illness from the coronavirus, more people are seeking the Salvation Army’s aid, said Hunt.

“We are seeing a higher percentage of people who haven’t needed aid ever or in a very long time,” he said, adding between its Weirton headquarters and Wellsburg service center, the organization has provided more than 400 boxes of food each month since March.

Last week it distributed large boxes of food for Thanksgiving, containing everything from a turkey and potatoes to pies and rolls, to roughly the same number of households.

And beginning this weekend bell ringers will appear outside stores with the bright red kettles used to accept monetary donations.

Hunt said some stores have asked for the kettles to be placed no earlier than the weekend following Thanksgiving, while others have been closed to walk-ins to deter spread of the virus.

He and his staff are assessing locations for the Salvation Army’s angel trees, which bear ornaments on which are written the Christmas wishes of local children, because foot traffic hasn’t resumed at some places that have been used in the past.

Staff said the Weirton Wal-Mart has agreed to host the trees and many churches and businesses that have adopted them previously have again stepped forward.

They expect other locations to be announced in the near future.

Meanwhile, the Brooke-Hancock Salvation Army has joined other locations in employing paid bell ringers to offset an anticipated shortage in volunteers.

Hunt said those challenges aside, he’s confident the community will step up again to support the Salvation Army’s efforts, which include assisting residents with utilities and other needs throughout the year.

In his second year as head of the Brooke-Hancock Salvation Army, Hunt said, “The community has always stepped up. This is one of the best places I’ve ever lived. It’s such a blessing to serve here.”

He noted volunteers are needed to staff the kettles between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, preferably for a two-hour period each, at stores in either county.

Over the years, local bell ringers have included members of families, churches and civic and school groups, co-workers and others who team to aid their less fortunate neighbors.

Anyone interested in serving or aiding the Salvation Army in other ways should call (304) 748-4310 or (304) 737-0071 for information.

(Scott can be contacted at wscott@heraldstaronline.com.)

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