Bells rang, kids smiled, mascots waved and red kettles were filled in a character-driven kick-off to the season of giving for the Salvation Army.
In Saturday’s good-natured contest, McGruff the Crime Dog, Wally the Walnut, the Bank of the West Bear, National Night Out Knight and seven other silent celebrities were in a battle for high-dollar honors.
Maj. Kyle Trimmer of the Salvation Army, Modesto, said his early read was “fantastic” on the novel kick-off competition. The winner will be announced Monday.
“It was our first-ever time with the mascots, and our hope is this is going to grow,” Trimmer said. High school and junior college mascots did not respond to the Salvation Army invitation this year, he said, but nearly a dozen businesses and nonprofits did.
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Freddy Foreman from Funworks posed for pictures by Macy’s at Vintage Faire Mall with young shoppers. Funworks General Manager Tiffannie Raney stood nearby, waving people over and handing out coupons. Donations were looking good, she said.
Freddy was attracting all the right attention, Raney said with a grin. “He brings out the inner child in people. That’s the best part about Christmas; bringing out that inner child.”
Scoopy Bee, all in fuzzy black, spent his 70th birthday basking in a sunny spot in front of JCPenney at Vintage Faire Mall. It was a sweaty four-hour stint, but Modesto Bee employee Maria Figueroa said the high-traffic spot gave Scoopy a competitive edge.
“The kids really seem to like him,” Figueroa said. “They’re giving him high fives.”
A toddler gave the bee a shy smile as mom Maria Aguilar dropped a bill in the kettle. She always gives a little when she passes a kettle, Aguilar said.
Also feeling the heat was the Modesto Nuts’ Al the Almond, standing on the sunny side of Walmart on Plaza Parkway. Beside him, Angel Aguilar thanked donors and encouraged youngsters to pose for pictures.
Aguilar said he rang the bell for 4-H in previous years, but having a mascot was a plus. “Al brings a lot more people over,” he said. The exposure was good for the Modesto Nuts, as well, he noted, as a tiny fan mistook Al the Almond for a hot dog. “A lot of folks recognize him,” he said, but those that didn’t got the chance to meet a real Nut.
Back at the mall’s shady west entrance to JCPenney, the Modesto Nuts’ Wally waved to adults and played tag with kids while Robert Moullette chatted up the fans. Moullette, Nuts director of brand management, said he was seeing a lot of green going into the red kettle.
The mascot promotion was a win-win in his book. “I think it’s a really great idea – co-branding,” he said. “I see a lot of potential with this.”
Trimmer said Moullette volunteered to help him plan and promote next year’s kick-off, an integral part of the giving season for the Salvation Army.
Bell ringers without mascots Saturday said their traffic didn’t suffer. “Thank you and bless you,” called out Brandie Cordero in front of the Walmart on Coffee Road, as some change clattered into her pot. “I’m having a blast,” she said. “Seeing people giving and caring – it’s wonderful.”
At the mall, just around the corner from the Stockton Thunder’s Thunder at Sears, Kristi Jolliff said she was seeing more $1 and $5 bills go in than on her shift the day before. “There’s a lot less people, but I think they’re giving more,” she said.
The charity counts on that generous spirit. This year the Modesto office plans to have a hot meal and presents for 1,200 local families. Donations also help support Salvation Army services throughout the year, including emergency food assistance, shelters, social services and the Red Shield Center.