The Hannibal Salvation Army announced its 2017 Christmas campaign goal of $100,000 on Nov. 9 during its kick-off dinner at the Hannibal Nutrition Center.

The Hannibal Salvation Army announced its 2017 Christmas campaign goal of $100,000 on Nov. 9 during its kick-off dinner at the Hannibal Nutrition Center. Major Andy Miller, area commander, reported $10,500 of this goal had already been received.

Nov. 10 is the beginning of the Christmas kettle campaign, during which bell-ringers will be working outside numerous local stores.

The 2017 Christmas campaign leaders, Susan and Jay Johnson, were introduced by the 2015 leaders, Dr. Woodrow and Katherine Burt.

Dr. Burt noted Susan Johnson, superintendent of Hannibal public schools, has been with the school district for more than 25 years, including 10 as assistant superintendent. He noted that Jay Johnson was head tennis coach at both the middle and high schools and after retiring has continued to substitute teach at both schools, along with serving in the office of public safety at Hannibal-LaGrange University.

Susan Johnson said she and Jay were honored and humbled to be asked to speak. After praising all the help offered by the Salvation Army, she noted that when she was principal at Eugene Field Elementary School, the school had quarterly drawings for $100 Wal-Mart gift cards. She said when taking the students to spend their $100, “you would think a young child from ages 5 to 10 or 11 would go to the toy department and look for things, but they didn't. They wanted to buy for their families. We had to make a rule they had to buy one thing for themselves.”

The crowd heard a report of local Salvation Army assistance in its five-county area (Marion, Ralls, Lewis, Monroe and Shelby counties) from Oct. 1, 2016, to Sept. 30, 2017. A total of 9,274 people received assistance, including 4,330 in the daily bread line. Also, 1,139 food boxes were distributed, 49 families received utility assistance, 16 families received rent assistance, and 98 families received help with clothing.

In the 2016 Christmas campaign, 611 received food boxes, 1,073 children received toys, and a total of 5,400 toys were distributed in partnership with Toys For Tots.

This year the Christmas distribution date is Dec. 20 at the Admiral Coontz Recreation Center.

Although the campaign leaders emphasized the importance of helping people at Christmas, the most emotional message came from Melissa Meeker, as she shared how she feels about helping the social services recipients. As family services caseworker at the Hannibal Salvation Army, Meeker meets the people who arrive in need of help.

She reported $2,600 was spent in the Life Employment Assistance Program (LEAP), which helps people to gain or keep employment. She added the Salvation Army again worked in cooperation with other agencies to offer services in one spot in Community Connect, which served 180 clients.

“The Salvation Army does more than just provide assistance,” Meeker said, such as in the bread line, where she meets elderly people, “who are there to have somebody to talk to.”

She shared one woman's story, about a mother who was being divorced. She had a part-time job and received a food box. “I would see her out in the community, and she would come and give me an update.” Later “she was able to acquire her own home and full-time employment. … I love that she feels open to come up to me and update me and give me a hug. … I like it that we are there for more” than assistance.

Major Miller invited everyone to come to the family store and offices at 302 Broadway, adding that “soon - by Dec. 1, I hope - we will move our location to the Steamboat Bend Shopping Center.”

Before dinner was served, the people were entertained by the Salvation Army Brass Band.

During dinner, Praise Song from HLGU presented three songs, led by the university's creative director, John Francis, and performance director, Jeremiah Craighead.

See photo gallery for more pictures of the campaign kick-off.

Reach reporter Bev Darr at bev.darr@courierpost.com.