After setting out to raise $22,000 with this year's red kettle donation campaign, the Barnes County Salvation Army Unit is proud to report that county residents have helped them shatter their goal.
"This year, we raised $44,736. It's just unbelievable," said Barnes County Salvation Army Chairman Lee Isensee.
"The kettle totals were way up with what people were giving. We had to form a new team this year, and we were worried because we didn't have any of the records, but with (kettle co-chairmen) Joe (Lunde) and Dave (Carlsrud), they took off and we got a bunch of people ringing the bells."
According to Lunde, counting businesses, church groups and clubs, there were 25 organizations that filled 186 bell-ringing shifts. The remaining 438 volunteer shifts were filled by individuals.
"Some of those people put in shifts like you wouldn't believe," he said, adding that the kettles averaged $72 per hour in 2011, where a normal figure would be closer to $30 an hour.
Nearly half of the money raised this season came in the week leading up to Christmas, which traditionally sees the most people donating. In 2010, the campaign raised $9,000 in the week before Christmas, but this holiday season blew that figure out of the water.
"We did just short of $20,000 last week alone," said Isensee.
Lunde chalked the success up to "new blood" in the volunteer base, and the community's willingness to help a good cause. "Every penny that is raised here, stays here," he said. "I have never been involved with anything that has been so heartwarming."
"It could be that someone loses their job, or their car breaks down, or their house burns down," Isensee said. "We can help."
"It's just a shot in the arm to help in their time of need," Lunde said.
Lunde and Isensee said that the enormously successful season has re-energized them, and they now have an overflowing volunteer list for next year's kettle drive.
"From the bottom of our hearts, we thank everyone for ringing and putting their money in the kettle," said Isensee. "We don't have anything without them."