Salvation Army drive kicks off with Christmas tree lighting

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The iconic ringing of the Salvation Army bells will kick off Thursday with a flurry of fanfare at Light Up Brentwood.

“Light Up Brentwood is a huge event in Wilson,” said Gary Proffitt, chairman of the social services and communications division of the local Salvation Army. “The parking lot is always wall-to-wall people, so we’re excited to have the kickoff of the 2017 kettle drive included in this popular event.”

Shoppes at Brentwood marketing manager Megan Lively said the fun will start at 6 p.m. with performances by area students and WRAL anchor Bill Leslie, who also will lead a countdown to lighting the shopping center’s Christmas tree.

“I love seeing the children’s faces when the tree comes on,” Lively said. “When the event starts, the tree is completely dark, but when the countdown is over and Bill turns on the lights, I’m looking at all the children’s faces because they just light up.”

It is the fifth year for the event, which will include a fashion show with clothing and accessories sold at Brentwood merchants, concluding with Santa and Mrs. Claus joining the festivities. Lively said she didn’t hesitate when Proffitt asked to include the kettle kickoff in the event.

“It is the season of giving and I think we need to incorporate more of that into our program,” she said.

Last year, the Salvation Army raised $80,000 with the Red Kettle Campaign, but Lt. Jake Law said he’s hopeful Wilson will increase donations to $100,000 this year.

“The Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign is a valued tradition in our community,” Law said. “A little change from someone’s pocket keeps the lights on for struggling families, provides nutritious food for the hungry and pays the rent when personal disaster strikes.

“A season of change can truly create a year of hope.”

Wilson will have 17 kettles at businesses throughout the city, including a new one between Bill’s Grill and The Sugar Plum Shoppe in downtown Wilson. Several of the kettles also will be equipped with credit and debit card readers for Wilsonians looking to donate but short on cash.

Proffitt said his goal is to have all of the kettles manned by volunteers, so the nonprofit doesn’t have to hire someone to ring the bells. He’s also searching for sponsors willing to match kettle donations for a day.

“Last year we did that and it was our single largest day of donations,” Law said. “It is great because if someone is ever going to give $10, that is the day to do it because it becomes $20. It leverages your gifts to make a big impact.”

The funds raised through the kettle drive support Salvation Army programs throughout the year and fill in the gaps of the Angel Tree Campaign, which provides gifts to more than 700 needy children between birth and age 12 as well as more than 100 seniors in need.

In an effort to increase toy donations, Proffitt has taken on a second persona as one of Santa’s elves and will be one of several volunteers to man an elf house — on loan from Leonard Buildings & Truck Accessories — that will be on display next week through Christmas.

“I’m a child at heart and I love Christmas dearly,” Proffitt said. “I buy for my grown children like they are still youngins and I want to share that spirit with others, so we’re including the toy drive in the kettle campaign.”

Proffitt is encouraging attendees of the Light Up Brentwood festivities to bring a new toy to donate to area kids. To donate to the toy drive, conact Proffitt at gproffi@aol.com. To volunteer or donate with the kettle drive, email Law at Jake.Law@uss.salvationarmy.org.