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The weather outside was frightful on Saturday, but that didn't keep four volunteers from ringing their bells for the Salvation Army's Red Kettle Campaign.

The women, all Billings Clinic employees, stood outside Kmart bundled against the 10-degree temperatures. They greeted store customers, some who stopped to deposit cash in the red kettle.

"Thank you!" volunteer Tamra Weaver said when one young boy stuffed a dollar bill into the container.

Weaver, a supervisor in Patient Financial Services, stood with Jennie Jones, Courtney Bethke and Kathy Kurtz, all employees in the same department.

"I think when you live in a community, you should volunteer," Weaver said. "The Salvation Army supports us, and I think we should support them."

All of the money raised through the Red Kettle Campaign goes to help local people, said Major Linda Jackson, who heads up the Billings Salvation Army office with her husband, Major Kevin Jackson.

"We use it for Christmas assistance, first and foremost," she said. "For food baskets, toys for children and for gifts for senior citizens. We go to nursing homes and provide services for them."

Outside of the holiday season, the money is used for other programs the Salvation Army sponsors, including a creative arts program for kids and the Community Table mobile feeding outreach that takes food to the homeless and those with low incomes in Billings and other parts of the county.

This is the first year the local Salvation Army is hoping to rely wholly on volunteers to staff the kettles, Jackson said.

"What we're trying to do is just get more of the donation dollars directly to direct services to the people of Billings," she said. "It's a little more complicated to do it this way, but we feel it's worth the effort."

As more volunteers become available, Jackson said, red kettles will be placed at Walmart, ShopKo, Evergreen IGA, Kmart, Hobby Lobby, Albertsons, and, new this year, Sam's Club. Salvation Army hopes to raise about $100,000 this season, which equals about 10 percent of the annual budget, Jackson said.

As the women laughed and chatted together, Jones, Bethke and Kurtz all rang bells to call attention to the red kettle on the stand. Kurtz joked that it was their shivering that caused the bells to ring.

But they were good-natured about being out in the cold weather. They were nearing the end of their two-hour shift, and expecting three more Billings Clinic employees to take their places.

Weaver was surprised by the number of people entering or exiting the store who stopped to drop money into the kettle.

"I can't believe it," she said. "Such a terrible day but such a good response."

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Contact Susan Olp at solp@billingsgazette.com or 657-1281.

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