The sound of Salvation Army bells is one of the staples of the holiday season. But at several stores around Little Rock, the season has arrived earlier than usual.

Thanks to national contract agreements with Bass Pro Shops, Kroger, and JCPenney, bell-ringers are already collecting donations at 13 locations in central Arkansas.

“Being that the need is greater, now more than ever, we’re just lucky to have an opportunity to get out here and get started,” said Capt. Chwight Olige of the Salvation Army Central Arkansas Command, “so we can start making those impacts in those lives that we need to.”

David Hill spent part of his Tuesday afternoon ringing a ball beside the trademark red kettle outside the Kroger location on Chenal Parkway. It is his second year helping to raise funds for the organization.

“It’s good,” he said, “knowing that I’m able to bring in some money for the Salvation Army, who gives back and does so much for communities and kids who don’t get to have Christmases, and stuff like that.”

Olige said Hill was among the group of top bell-ringers who were picked for shifts during this early period.

“He understands that, with him out here ringing his bell, that may be the first and only experience that someone may have with the Salvation Army,” Olige explained.

Roughly one out of every six dollars in the Salvation Army’s budget comes from the red kettle campaign. The funds cover its homeless shelter for women and children, its feeding program, its utility payment assistance services, and more.

This year, Olige said the Salvation Army Central Arkansas Command plans to provide Christmas presents to more than 3,000 children whose families otherwise would not be able to afford them. His goal for this season is to raise more than $450,000.

“That may sound like a lot,” he admitted, “and that is an increase from [last] year. But being that the need is greater, more than ever, I believe that the community is going to come together and respond in a great way.”

Traditionally, donations pick up in the days before Christmas, in part because more people are out shopping, and in part because familiarity breeds generosity. “Because people, they recognize your face,” Hill noted, “they’re more willing to give to you than if we start later on, and it’s, like, late in the season.”

Hill and Olige both believe the head start to the fundraising season will extend that peak giving time.

“The awesome thing is that folks support the Salvation Army,” Olige said, “and they get ready to see us time in and time out, the same time every year.”

“There are so many kids and families who count on the Salvation Army to give back to them,” Hill added. “Some families that, you know, kids are waking up and they don’t have Christmases. And with the Salvation Army’s help, they’re able to have Christmases and feel special for that one day.”

While a growing number of people choose to only carry credit or debit cards and not cash, Olige said that has not hurt the red kettle campaign. “I believe the community is ready to see us out here,” he stated. “They look forward to seeing us, and I believe that they come prepared. But if they don’t, just to get them ready, we like to tell our folks, ‘if you hear the bell and see the kettle, be prepared to drop something.’ And we definitely appreciate it when they do!”

The week leading up to Christmas, the Salvation Army’s fundraisers will have credit card readers with their kettles at Park Plaza and McCain Mall for those who want to give and do not carry cash.

Olige said another potential benefit of launching the red kettle campaign a few weeks early is the chance to expose more people to volunteer opportunities with the Salvation Army. To see a list of current needs, click here.