For Betty Rivers, standing next to a red kettle and ringing a bell to encourage donations to the Salvation Army means more than helping out a worthy cause.

Rivers, 62, has been a bell ringer for over 30 years. She started after the Salvation Army met many of her needs as a single mom with four children.

She started going to church there and her children would go to the center on Buffalo Avenue after school while she worked.

“There’s a safe place,” she said. “There’s always someone there.”

The Salvation Army has become much more than a volunteer project for Rivers. Two of her children grew up to be captains; one is still serving in Jersey City, N.J., the other left to return to school.

“If I need something, I know where to go to get it,” she said. “It’s a good place to worship, but it’s also a way of life. It keeps me out of trouble.”

Working on Thursday at the Media Play store on Niagara Falls Boulevard, Rivers recounted memories of ringing the bell in years past, times she was asked to pray with someone, and the times she was simply asked for directions.

“It’s a good experience,” she said. “You get to know people.”

Rivers, and many others like her across the country, stand in red aprons and ring bells in front of shopping centers across the country in an effort to fund the Salvation Army’s activities throughout the year.

Those include providing food and toys for about 300 needy families at Christmas, a year-round food pantry, and hosting between 60 and 100 children at a free after-school program, as well as meeting emergency needs throughout the year.

All funds gathered locally go to support the local Salvation Army, at 7018 Buffalo Ave.

And they need all the help they can get.

“This year has been our slowest year,” said Captain William Garrett, who leads the Niagara Falls center. “We were actually hoping to have a better year than last year.”

As of Thursday, $37,000 was collected in the Falls. The goal for the season, which ends on Christmas Eve, is $80,000.

Garrett attributes the drop to the generosity of Western New Yorkers after Hurricanes Rita and , as well as rising gas and utility costs.

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