To the observant, John Gearhart is a familiar face or at least sound.
The Niles man has been volunteering for the Red Cross Red Kettle campaign since 2000. On Friday, he was stationed at the Eastwood Mall in Niles.
"Basically I do this to help the Salvation Army at Christmas with their finances," he said. "I enjoy this and look forward to helping. I get to meet so many different people. It's fun watching the children put their pennies, nickels and dimes in the kettles.''
Landon Issac, 6, of Youngstown, places coins in a Salvation Army Red Kettle outside the Eastwood Mall in Niles. Volunteer John Gearhart of Niles rings the bell to help with the holiday effort. Gearhart is among the many who help with the annual campaign. Photo by Bolb Coupland
Gearhart said he volunteers four days a week and is often asked by others how they can do likewise.
"It's a blessing to me and a blessing to the community what the Salvation Army is able to do," he said.
The Red Kettle campaign kicks off each November and runs through Christmas Eve. The Trumbull County campaign started Nov. 2.
Capt. Charles Coffelt of the Trumbull County Salvation Army said the volunteers help at more than 25 locations. Capt. Misty Coffelt said the goal for 2012 is $320,000, which also includes the seasonal mailing donation. The goal for 2011 was $315,000.
"Even though this is done at Christmas time, it helps us to fund our programs all year long. It does help us at Christmas in providing people with food and toys but also helps us to do all our services and programs for an entire year," she said.
The Mahoning County Salvation Army kicked off its campaign earlier this month as well.
Maj. Elijah Kahn and his wife, Maj. Valerie Kahn, coordinators of the Mahoning County Service Area, said Mahoning County has more than 40 collection sites.
Elijah Kahn said the 2012 campaign goal is $305,000, up $5,000 from 2011, when the campaign exceeded its goal by raising $343,000. All money raised from the effort stays in the community by supporting local Salvation Army programs and services.
Kahn said the campaign is the Salvation Army's single-largest fundraising event in Mahoning County.
''We are grateful to generous friends who have provided faithful support for those struggling to make ends meet," he said. "Mahoning County always comes through for the Salvation Army because the need is great and we can just ask for people to think of the Salvation Army this season and remember those in need.''
Charles Coffelt said individuals and groups have signed up to be bell ringers. He said the volunteers work from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and then 3 to 8 pm. with breaks.
"We get people who come back each year to volunteer, " Charles Coffelt said
One of those is six-year veteran Jim Currey of Newton Falls, who said he enjoys the time helping and always tries to find a good location to set up the kettle display for visibility and to escape from rain or snow.
He set up this year at the back of the Eastwood Mall near the license bureau entrance where there is shelter.
"People see me when they go in and out,'' he said.
Vince Venzeio of Liberty was at the mall and stopped by with his brother Nicky to make a donation.
''Whenever we see a kettle we try to help by giving whatever change we have,'' he said.