YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Soon, we’ll be hearing the bells at local shopping centers from the Salvation Army. WKBN Community Affairs Director Dee Crawford is going In-Depth with the group this week about the services they provide.

“We’re gearing up now for the holidays, so we’re getting ready for next Wednesday will be our Thanksgiving meal. We’re going to have a nice, hot meal for anyone in the community who wants to come. They can come inside the building or if they wish to take them to go, they can do that as well. We are planning on having a good 600-700 families come to get a meal,” said Major Paul Moore with the Salvation Army.

Moore discussed that even though their numbers are increasing and their costs are increasing given what’s going on in the current economy, the Salvation Army is still blessed.

“We’ve been blessed with COVID. I know, COVID — they weren’t fun days, but we had a lot of generous people during COVID that gave us some good donations. So we still have a little bit in the rainy day funds, if you want to call that. So we’re still being blessed by some of that. So we’re grateful for that and able to meet the need for today, but we never know what tomorrow is going to bring,” he said.

The Salvation Army serves meals three days a week, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. During those meals, Moore said the number of people has gone up from about 190-200 to about 250-275 people.

“So it depends on, you know, the need, but the need is great… A lot of people are just struggling with the basic human needs, so anything they can get, free lunch, you know, the food pantry, they’re taking advantage of,” Moore said. “Believe it or not, we’ve seen a number of new families every time, even with our pantry. We have a number of new families that have never been there before that are coming for help.”

The Salvation Army relies on volunteers to help serve the community.

“We have volunteers contact us. We’re always open to that. We hired a new staff member, her name is Jennifer. So if anyone wants to volunteer, they can just call our building and talk to Jennifer and she will find a spot for them, whether they want to pack boxes or give out lunches or sort out Christmas toys, whatever they want to do, Jennifer can find a spot for them,” Moore said.

The organization also relies on donations of money, food and clothing. The money helps pay for any food or clothing not donated to the organization.

“We purchase a lot of our food. We do get donations from the Second Harvest Food Bank, but there’s a lot of food that we purchase as well. So yeah, any donations are greatly accepted and will be used for the needs of this community,” Moore said.

As far as meals, people can get a hot meal or take out.

“It seems to be a blessing, and a lot of people come back and give us good comments or just thank us for our gratitude. We’re glad that we can offer that assistance and just bring some hope and help to people,” Moore said.

With Christmas on the way, the Salvation Army is gearing up for its annual toy drive.

“So this coming Saturday at the Southern Park Mall, we’re going to have our actual Red Kettle kickoff and our Army of Toy Drive kickoff. So anyone who brings a toy by on Saturday, I think valued at $10 or more, they can be eligible for a prize — a $500 shopping spree at the mall, and some other prizes will be available too, but it will be a lot of fun. They’re going to have a lot of things going on — face painting and balloons and all sorts of things at the mall on Saturday,” Moore said.

The Salvation Army is looking for brand-new toys. The event runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

There are about 14 or 15 locations for the Red Kettle campaign. Individuals or groups can volunteer to ring the bell.

“A lot of people think they can’t put change, but change, dollar bills, whatever you have, every little bit helps,” Moore said. “A lot of people think that we spend all that money at Christmas, but we don’t. [It helps] year-round to run our programs, to keep feeding people and to keep providing utility assistance and clothing. So that money does go year-round for our budget.”

Moore says the Salvation Army depends on support from the community, which has never let them down before, and he expects no different this holiday season.

“With Christmas coming, we have a lot of, we’ll be doing a lot of food vouchers for the families as well as toys for the kids. Winter hats and coats and boots and things like that. We have over 2,000 kids on the list for toys and over, I think 800, maybe close to 900 families,” Moore said.