LONG BEACH -- As the fog lifted in Downtown Long Beach on Friday morning, Maj. Judy Hedgren was officially ringing in the holiday season.

Manning one of the iconic red Christmas kettles and clanging the accompanying bell, Hedgren and the Long Beach Chapter of the Salvation Army began the annual Christmas Kettle Kick-off drive before a cozy gathering at the Promenade.

"I'm just encouraging people," she said as she stood watch over her kettle.

Hedgren, whose husband, Rudy, is the director of operations for the local Army Citadel, and organizers were grateful for the weather improvement just a half-hour before the scheduled noon start-time of the event.

This year, the Salvation Army will have 25 kettles scattered throughout Long Beach.

"The kettle drive provides all the funds for food baskets and toys we provide (to 1,500 families,)" Rudy Hedgren said.

Last year, the local Salvation Army collected a record $77,000 from the kettles, he said.

This year, with a strong retail season predicted by many financial forecasters, organizers hope for a boost in charitable giving as well.

Rudy Hedgren said this year his group was hoping to raise $80,000 from the kettles.

Friday's event featured a 14-piece Salvation Army brass band.

Also on hand were six members of the Long Beach Junior Singing Company, under the direction of Capt. Erika Hernandez, who sang a selection of songs for the onlookers.


Advertisement

Erika Hernandez, whose husband, Moy, is the commanding officer of the local Salvation Army chapter, thanked those who came to the event.

"Through the monies raised (by the kettle drive) many lives will be touched," she said, noting that funds help support 800 "adopted" Salvation Army families, 750 participants in the annual toys for tots program and those in the Holiday Dreams program, co-sponsored by the Press-Telegram.

While the weather lifted in time for the event, unaccounted for was Poly High graduate and Olympic silver medalist Lashinda Demus.

The 2012 Christmas celebrity chairwoman, Demus was unavailable. Rudy Hedgren said he did not know why Demus was unable to attend.

Although Demus' absence shortened the scheduled hourlong event, Salvation Army officials were undeterred and closed the ceremony with Christmas carols accompanied by the band and children from the choir.


greg.mellen@presstelegram.com, 562-499-1291, twitter.com/gregmellen