HAMMOND — Standing outside Strack & Van Til Supermarket, Salvation Army volunteer Robert Biloche wishes passersby happy holidays as he thanks those who leave a donation in his red kettle.
“All I can do is hope,” said Biloche, 21, a Hammond resident and welding student at Ivy Tech Community College.
As much a part of the holidays as garland and eggnog, those red kettle donations support various local Salvation Army services.
“This is a vital time of year for us, and (red kettle donations) are a big part of our annual budget,” said Lt. Leta Marin of the Salvation Army’s East Chicago Corps center. “People don’t realize our programs run year-round.”
For the holidays, Joan Leech, director of development for Lake County Salvation Army, reports toy distribution to 2,444 children this season and Christmas meal food boxes for 1,502 families.
In Lake County, Salvation Army has corps centers in Gary, Munster and East Chicago. Leech said the East Chicago site’s weekday soup kitchen serves 18,000 hot meals annually and, together with its food pantry, the center provides 35,000 meals each year.
East Chicago’s Angel Tree, Marin noted, has tags for an estimated 500 children.
Additionally, Leech said, Lake County Salvation Army annually provides 5,000 instances of emergency assistance, including help with utilities, rent or mortgages and medicines. Other services include visits to elderly, infirmed, and shut-ins, social services for families and children’s character development.
“They’re helping people less fortunate,” said Biloche, who knew someone who received medical assistance through Salvation Army.
In addition, Adams Radio Group and NIPSCO are teaming to support Salvation Army with Spread the Warmth, accepting donations of new or gently used clothing through Dec. 17.