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The Honolulu Advertiser
Updated at 10:54 a.m., Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Red kettle 'miracle' thrills Salvation Army on Maui

By CLAUDINE SAN NICOLAS
The Maui News

KAHULUI, Maui Christmas was more than merry for the Salvation Army Kahului Corps.

"We got a miracle," Capt. Mark Merritt said, referring to an "amazing" 16 percent increase in donations to the 2008 Red Kettle Drive over the previous year.

All the coins and dollar bills that people dropped into kettles added up to $147,000, surpassing the 2007 drive by approximately $20,000, The Maui News reported today.

"The people of Maui need to know they put their hearts out, and we are truly grateful," Merritt said Tuesday.

In addition, more than 1,100 toys were donated for the Salvation Army's annual Angel Tree project that provides gifts to children who might not otherwise get anything for Christmas. Not only did the children in 1,000 families get one toy each, they also received clothing, and their families each received a bag of groceries to cover their food needs for a week.

Another 300 toys were packed on Tuesday and shipped to Molokai.

In 2007, the Angel Tree project served fewer than half - 400 - of this year's number of receiving families.

Merritt was shocked and yet very happy by the community's generosity.

"We must admit that going into this season we wondered if we would receive enough donations to help all the struggling families, considering our hurting economy," he said. "We got way beyond what we expected."

He said the Salvation Army initially resigned itself to a decrease in donations and would have been thankful if it had matched the 2007 Red Kettle Drive at $127,000.

In all cases, its holiday gift giving projects exceeded expectations, from the annual Thanksgiving dinner for senior citizens to the Angel Tree project, the kettle drive for ongoing programs, and Toys for Tots, another project for impoverished children.

Toys for Tots received more than 2,000 toys that were distributed through 12 human service agencies on Maui.

Merritt said the increase in the Red Kettle Drive comes at a time when the Salvation Army is seeing a rise in the number of struggling families. Money collected from the 2008 holiday season will go toward providing financial assistance in the way of food, rent and utilities.

In 2007, about 4,900 families on Maui were served by the donations dropped into the Red Kettles. Merritt said he anticipates serving about 6,000 families by the end of the year.

The Red Kettle Drive will also fund a daily soup kitchen, which served 42,000 hot meals in 2008.

Salvation Army will also continue to maintain its 18-bed program for men in need of a place to stay overnight; its after-school programs for about 75 latchkey children a week; and a weekly distribution of 120 food bags and another 120 hygiene kits to the homeless and other needy individuals.

In addition to individual donations, Merritt said more than two dozen businesses contributed to the holiday drives by providing donations and/or space for collections. "The economy may be turning down, but the citizens of Maui showed the love in their hearts is growing as large as the need."

* Claudine San Nicolas can be reached at claudine@mauinews.com.