SAN ANTONIO - The Salvation Army's familiar red kettles and bell ringers are as much of a holiday staple as mistletoe and holly, and they're back just in time for Giving Tuesday.
The agency's annual fundraising campaign officially kicked off at the national level on Black Friday.
Since then, the perennial signs of Christmas began appearing outside stores in San Antonio and beyond.
Rudolph Hernandez, a bell ringer, cheerfully greeted customers as they entered a North Side Hobby Lobby store Tuesday morning.
"They're helping out real good," he said, assessing this year's donors. "As we get closer to Christmas, it gets better."
This is Hernandez's third year in a row of volunteering to ring in donations for the agency, which he said has made a positive impact in his life.
"They helped me out when I was out and about, and they brought me where I am now," he said.
Hernandez was helped by one of the many programs the Salvation Army offers, which are funded by the bell-ringing campaign.
"It's not just a Christmas thing, even though we are prominent at Christmastime. These fund our programs year round," said Brad Mayhar, a spokesman for the local office.
Mayhar said all of the money raised locally is used within the community.
Lately, though, the fundraising effort has been in the national spotlight.
Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott has been behind quite a few televised end zone antics involving a giant red kettle.
On Thanksgiving Day, he placed $21 -- and teammate Dak Prescott -- into the kettle.
Elliott also issued a challenge to fans to donate the same amount, promising to match their generosity.
Mayhar said the agency, locally, is reaping some of the rewards.
"We get little bumps, locally, where people will but in a $20 bill plus a $1 bill for No. 21," he said.
The number the San Antonio office is striving for this year is 600,000, as in dollars.
The agency not only has to raise enough to cover expenses for this year, but to make up for a shortfall last year, Mayhar said.
Helping victims of Hurricane Harvey last year left donors drained just ahead of the holiday giving season.
Mayhar said donations can be made in person at any of the kettle sites or at the Salvation Army's Angel Tree locations inside local malls.
The Salvation Army accepts donations through its website as well.
The agency also is in desperate need of volunteers for the bell-ringing campaign.
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