BLOOMINGTON — A relatively stable economy sounds decent unless stability for you means living paycheck to paycheck.

"It seems like, while the economy seems to be chugging along fairly well, a lot of people are struggling day to day, living paycheck to paycheck to meet their basic needs," said Major Gary Felton of The Salvation Army of McLean County. "Christmas is a difficult time for a lot of families."

That's why this year's Salvation Army Make A Difference campaign — including the Red Kettle campaign and donations by mail and online — is as important as ever, Felton said.

Felton spoke with The Pantagraph after Friday's campaign kickoff at The Salvation Army, 611 W. Washington St., Bloomington. About 50 people attended the event, where Bob and Julie Dobski of Bloomington were announced as honorary campaign chairs.

The Dobskis announced a campaign goal of $515,000. Felton and Lt. Edward Williams hope to collect $255,000 from the Red Kettles and $260,000 through mail and online contributions.

"There is a major need in this community for people who don't have a traditional family unit," Bob Dobski said. "They can have family with The Salvation Army."

Last year's campaign raised a record high $529,689 — $253,696 in the Red Kettles and $276,001.97 from mail and online appeals and other gifts.

"This is our biggest fundraiser of the year," Felton said. "If we don't make our goal, it will be difficult for us to provide services not only during the Christmas season but year-round."

Make A Difference campaign donations account for nearly one third of The Salvation Army of McLean County's yearly operating budget of $1.8 million. Donations support programs, including Safe Harbor homeless shelter, food pantry, case management to help people out of poverty and an after-school program.

Last Christmas, The Salvation Army distributed 1,200 food baskets. Throughout 2016, 500 men and women were sheltered at Safe Harbor, more than 50,000 meals were served there and more than 2,500 households received food from the food pantry, Felton said.

"We anticipate similar numbers this year," he said.

Twenty-five Red Kettles are going up at stores throughout Bloomington-Normal. Kettles are scheduled to be up 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, with the exception of Thanksgiving, through Dec. 23.

The Dobskis urged McLean County residents to go to www.ringbells.org and click on "Bloomington" or call 309-829-9476, ext. 204, to sign up to be volunteer bell ringers.

The Dobskis — co-owners of Little Jewels Learning Center and former co-owners of McDonald's in Bloomington-Normal, McLean and Gibson City — are part of a group who have prepared and served a meal at Safe Harbor once a month for the past 20 years and organized McDonald's managers to be bell ringers in the past.

"People should give because they have an opportunity to give to something that truly can make a difference in our community," said Williams. 

Follow Paul Swiech on Twitter: @pg_swiech

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