The needs have been many in the last few weeks for those seeking help from the Salvation Army in Hays, said Julie Smith, Ellis County Coordinator.

For Project Suitcase, Smith buys suitcases and fills them with personal items like shampoo and conditioner, toothbrushes and toothpaste, blankets, playing cards, crayons and coloring books, and other items.

“We give them to kids in the foster program so they don’t have to carry their things around in a trash bag,” Smith said. “So they feel their stuff is worthy. I give about 16 away each month. I try to do that, but sometimes it’s hard because there’s not enough money.”

There’s also the Paper Pantry, where people who meet income guidelines can shop the store at 203 E. Seventh St. for necessities that can’t be purchased with food stamps, like laundry soap, toothpaste, paper towels, toilet paper, sanitary napkins, dish soap, trash bags and household cleaners, to name a few. 

“I’m desperate for donations for that,” Smith said on Tuesday. “I’m totally out of paper towels and laundry soap.” Usually there are three or four shoppers when the store is open on Tuesdays. But recently there were 13 families who came in for help.

The Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays are the big push for Smith, when bell ringers in front of retail stores encourage shoppers to throw spare change into bright red pots.

“Bell ringing provides the entire budget. It all goes for assistance. And all the money stays here in Ellis County,” Smith said. “My goal is $40,000. I don’t know if I’ll make it, but if my Christmas wish comes through, I’m wishing for $40,000. That way I can help more families. There’s a big need here.” 

Meeting that goal is challenging because Smith is in need of bell ringer volunteers, and it takes a lot of people.

Bell ringing starts the week prior to Thanksgiving and runs through Dec. 24, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Walmart, 4301 Vine, each Dillons grocery store at 1902 Vine and 517 W. 27th, Hobby Lobby, 3300 Vine, and Walgreens, 2600 Vine. 

She said with gratitude that Tom Meis, Midwest Energy chief financial officer and a member of the Hays Rotary Club, is one of her big helpers. While this is Smith’s first year as coordinator of the Salvation Army, Meis has helped with the project for about 15 years, he said. He solicits volunteers from the 50 to 60 members of the Rotary club.

“I’m going to say, a good share, probably more than half, contribute at least one hour,” Meis said. 

He became familiar with Salvation Army as a member of the board of First Call for Help, 607 E. 13th St., Hays.

“The persons that receive money oftentimes are clients of ours too,” he said. “The Salvation Army provides for basic needs of people that are less fortunate, during this holiday season.”

First Kansas Bank, 1200 E. 27th St., Hays, allows employees to volunteer during paid work hours, supplying two people for two hours twice a week, Smith said. 

Others who supply volunteers include Lewis Automotive Group, First Christian Church, Boy Scouts of America, and Adams Brown Beran and Ball certified public accountants. 

To supplement the bell ringers, Smith has also put out 60 counter kettles at local businesses.

“While people are ordering their meal at Taco Shop, they can toss some change in the kettle,” Smith said. 

She doesn’t like to leave the red kettles unmanned in front of a business.

“If a kettle is just setting there without a bell ringer, everyone just walks by,” Smith said. “If there’s a ringer, people give.”