Salvation Army gearing up

Thursday, November 24, 2011
Ed Leswig, Mr. Salvation Army of Carroll County, is ready to sign up volunteers for his annual Red Kettle bell ringing campaign that starts Friday. Anna Mathews / Carroll County News

CARROLL COUNTY -- Ed Leswig is the Salvation Army of Carroll County, a one-man show who recruits and distributes funds for the disadvantaged.

Ever since he took over the post 10 years ago he's been busy at work -- especially during the holidays when the "Red Kettle" bell ringing campaign is under way.

Seventy percent of his donations are received during the holiday campaign -- and the need for those donations is greater than ever before.

He expects a 15 percent increase in requests at a time when several of his support sources have stopped contributing because they don't have the money.

"We were getting some money from two different sources," he said. "One provided rental assistance. The other helped with heating bills. Both of their funding sources dried up. They said they would love to help but they have no money.

"Times are tough," he continued. "We need more than ever bell ringers and money in the kettle."

He said every dollar contributed here stays here to fulfill the Salvation Army's goal of giving a 'hand up' and not a 'hand out.'

"Ninety-nine percent of each dollar collected is spent to provide financial assistance for Carroll County residents to help them pay their bills," he said. Leswig retains less than one percent to cover operational costs.

He meets with applicants each Monday and Wednesday from 10 a.m. until noon at the Flint Street Food Bank and at the Loaves and Fishes Food Bank on Fridays from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. "It's first come, first served," he explained.

It was at the Flint Street Food Bank that Leswig first became involved with the Salvation Army of Carroll County.

"I was looking for something to do when I retired," he remembered. "I joined the Eureka Springs Rotary Club and one of the members was on the board of the Flint Street Food Bank. I asked if they needed help."

The next thing he knew, he was volunteering Mondays, then Mondays and Wednesdays, then Mondays, Wednesdays and serving on the board of directors.

"When I went to my first board meeting, I leaned over to tie my shoe and when I sat back up they congratulated me because I had been voted vice president of the food bank," he grinned.

It was there that he met Elsie Johns. "She was running the Salvation Army here in 2002," he said. "She asked if I would sit with her when interviewing applicants at Flint Street in the evenings because she didn't want to be alone."

He did and when she decided to move back to Ohio because of health reasons, Leswig agreed to take over.

"I thought it would not be too hard to help out and write checks," he remembered wryly. "The last thing she said was 'you're responsible for your own fundraising' and handed me the check book with $24 in it!"

Leswig's fundraising efforts soon began in earnest.

"I went to the Eureka Springs Rotary, explained and asked for help," he said. "They agreed to give a fixed monthly amount for several years, and they are still supportive.

"The Rotarys of Eureka Springs, Berryville and Holiday Island always show up for bell ringing," he said. "If there is a reason the Salvation Army of Carroll County is a success, it's because of Rotary."

During the last fiscal year, November through October, Leswig said he raised and distributed a record-breaking $57,560; helping 421 families and 1,021 individuals.

One of those families was a single mother with five children who was threatened with eviction.

"I was able to give her enough assistance to get her rent paid -- and I was contacted by a church group looking for a family to adopt for Christmas," he said. "She had asked for gift help and I connected the two. That's what I do, serve as a conduit between the generosity of the people and those who need help.

"It's amazing the number of people in Carroll County trying to help their neighbors but don't know how," he continued, "and we are able to do that."

Beginning this Friday it will be easy to help by contributing to the Red Kettle campaign. People can sign up to become volunteer bell ringers or drop money in the kettles to help their neighbors in need.

Bell ringers work in two hour shifts, Leswig said, from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. daily, one person per door, at Sunfest at Holiday Island, Harts Family Center in Eureka Springs and at Walmart in Berryville.

Leswig said he's had some help from Green Forest in the past and he's hoping to increase that support.

"Groups are welcome," he said of the bell ringing effort. "The more the merrier. We had high school students come after school last year and we hope for their expanded presence this year."

The money raised through this effort goes to people who need a "hand up" with food, heat, gas, auto repairs, medicine, transportation, rent, emergency lodging and medical and dental expenses.

Leswig said 95 percent of his funding comes from recurring and one-time donations from the people and organizations of Carroll County.

"Our 'Red Kettle' bell ringing campaign begins the day after Thanksgiving throughout the county," he said.

"We need your donations of both money and time.

"The more people who volunteer, the more often and longer we can ring the bells, and more people can be helped."

To learn more or to volunteer as a bell ringer, contact Leswig at (479) 253-1516 or uditka@aol.com.

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