HELENA — While the weeks leading up to the Christmas holiday are typically termed, 'the season of giving,' two Helena grocery stores added the spirit of competition when raising money for the Salvation Army on Friday.
"The Red Kettle ring off here in Helena is something I got started on last year," said Art Williams, store manager of Van's Thriftway, "We actually did it on our own on Christmas Eve, and we raised almost $3,500."
This year, Williams reached out to Eric Dowell, store manager of Safeway, earlier this year to try and set up a day where both stores could square off against one another to see which store could raise the most money for the Salvation Army in one day, both in person and online. Though there is certainly a competitive aspect to the event, both Williams and Dowell see the event as a 'win-win' situation, regardless of which store raises the most money.
Williams said he first started the 'Red Kettle Ring Off' when he worked as a store manager for a grocery store in Columbia Falls and never lost. However, even if his streak does come to an end he's end on Friday, he's just excited to see the event grow and raise more money for the Salvation Army.
"I may not win today, we're going up against the big boys, but that's not what's important. What's important is that the people in Helena can contribute and makes a difference for somebody for this holiday," said Williams.
The Salvation Army raises thousands of dollars each year which goes towards Salvation Army programs that benefit the Helena community.
"This money, it all stays here locally. So it's raised for ... feeding many families through the holiday. Holiday food boxes are going to be purchased, some of the food that we're going to hand out. We're also helping out some families through our 'adopt an Angel Tree programs.' So all of those funds that go in to help us out through Christmas time, it just benefits the families of our local community," said Maj. Brian West, Helena Corps Officer for the Salvation Army.
Each year, members of the Helena community from all walks of life volunteer their time and money to the Salvation Army each year for the Red Kettle Campaign, and the fact that people continue to do for an effort like the 'Red Kettle Ring Off' is not lost on those affiliated with Friday's event.
"This community is absolutely fantastic. When it comes to doing something like this, they jump all over it. This is just the doorstep for them to come through and use for a venue to help the community be successful, and I love it. I can't — the feeling every time we do something like this that we get — It's just overwhelming. It's amazing to see what this community can come together and do," said Dowell.
As of publishing this story, the final totals for each store are not known and will be updated as that information comes available, but the Helena community and beyond can still donate to their favorite grocery store's portion of the campaign online.
Van's Thriftway Online Red Kettle
Helena Safeway Online Red Kettle
As for how much each store thinks it will raise? Both hope to see their totals reach over several thousand dollars, but Dowell said he is always wishing for more.
"How much do I want to raise? If it's going back to help the kids in our community, millions of dollars would be absolutely the best," said Dowell with a hearty laugh. "But we got a gap in there that we're gonna have to bridge."