First kettle donation of 2012 Tree of Lights “Thank God for You” campaign.

Sunshine and what Mayor Ballard called “balmy weather” replaced the wind and chills at this year’s annual Tree of Lights kickoff event. The once rickety, temporary platform on the front lawn was also replaced by a beautiful concrete patio and new landscaping. It really was the perfect setting to start an annual campaign held to raise money (and awareness) for Salvation Army programs in the community.

“Starting today and running through the end of January, The Salvation Army hopes to raise its goal of 3.3 million dollars with its Tree of Lights campaign,” said Major Theresa Turner. “And make sure that those in need can turn to us once again in 2013.”

Last year, The Salvation Army served more than 2,300 people struggling with substance abuse, provided more than 101,000 safe nights of shelter for women and children fleeing domestic abuse and homelessness, served more than 500,000 meals to men, women and children who were hungry, and provided a safe environment for hundreds of area children to go after school.

Because of the Salvation Army and its programs, Jewel Marks said she went from “hopeless to hopeful.” She addressed the crowd with a voice of strength and compassion about her recent struggle and getting back on her feet again.

The slogan for this year’s campaign, “Thank God for You” already rang true with Marks.

“You see, The Salvation Army is not just meeting the immediate needs of the hungry and homeless, ” said Divisional Commander Major John Turner. “We’re providing them with the tools to get back on their feet and regain independence.”

Of course it probably wouldn’t be a Tree of lights kickoff without WISH TV’s Eric Halvorson, the event chairman for the eighth year in a row. Other guests included: Salvation Army Advisory Board Chairman Lonnie Perkins, Mayor Greg Ballard, comedic relief from Pat Sullivan and Denny Smith, check presentations from Jason Wetzel of Walmart and Nan Evanga from The Salvation Army’s Women’s Auxiliary, entertainment by St. Richards Dragonettes choir and The Salvation Army Brass Ensemble, WIBC, Two Men and a Truck, and Santa himself.

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