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story.lead_photo.caption FILE: A group of students and parents from Kingdom Christian Academy decorate a tree in 2018 in the Field of Joy. The field, which benefits Salvation Army, lights up at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 2; sign up by Nov. 15 to participate. Photo by Helen Wilbers / Fulton Sun.

When 15,000 lights twinkle to life at the Festival of Lights in Veterans Park, it can take a spectator's breath away.

"If you haven't been to Veterans Park during the Christmas season, I don't know how you've survived in Callaway County," said Glenda Fitch, head of the Salvation Army of Callaway County.

Callaway County residents and organizations have a chance to be part of that moment and raise some funds for Salvation Army, by participating in the Field of Joy. The Salvation Army reserves a field where anyone from a family to a church to a company may sponsor a Christmas tree, with proceeds going to support the Salvation Army's utility assistance program.

"You provide the tree — which can be real, artificial or something else, as long as it's tree shaped — and the decorations, and the city will provide a stand so it doesn't blow over, electricity and a reflective sign that says whatever you want," Fitch said.

Families, churches and nonprofits pay $25 to reserve a spot, while businesses may sponsor a tree for $50. The deadline to sign up is Nov. 15. Forms may be downloaded from the Fulton Parks and Recreation Facebook page or picked up at the Parks and Recreation department in City Hall. Call 573-592-3190 for more info.

"More and more of them are becoming memory trees for people who've passed away," Fitch said. "This year, we have several that are family trees. The Crain family's been looking for train ornaments, because they call themselves the 'Crain Train.'"

She said 37 spots are reserved so far; the city has enough tree stands for 90.

Setup is Nov. 22-25, and the trees will light up — along with the rest of the park's lights — at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 2.

"Even if you don't have a tree, if you have a kid or grandkid, get them out to the park," Fitch said. "We'll have a Salvation Army canteen out there with hot chocolate and 20 dozen cookies to give away."

A local church will perform a live nativity, and Santa just might stop by.

Bell ringing

There are ways for the not-so-artistically-inclined to help as well. The Salvation Army's annual Christmas Kettle Campaign launches on Black Friday, and Fitch is actively recruiting ringers. Ringers work two-hour shifts at the Fulton Walmart or Moser's. Fitch hopes to have someone on duty between 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday.

"The main thing I need is bodies who can wear aprons and ding-a-ling a bell," Fitch said. "You don't have to be musical. And if you have kids, bring them. People donate a lot when there's kids standing there."

Of the funds raised, 85 percent stays in Callaway County and goes to SERVE to provide emergency utility and prescription assistance. SERVE has to distribute the funds by a certain deadline, after which the remainder goes back to the larger Salvation Army organization.

Ringers typically raise around $15,000 for the program each year.

"What you will find is that the people you expect to donate won't be the ones who actually stop at the kettle," Fitch said. "It's the people who were helped in the past who come up with a dollar or two."

Large groups are welcome to reserve a whole day to ring, she added. To sign up for a shift, call Fitch at 573-529-9675.

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