Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Doug Davis, left, Troy Trimmer and Deborah Greene of the Salvation Army kick stand next to a Salt Lake donation bucket.

SALT LAKE CITY — The jingle of a single ringing bell outside grocery stores is a sure sign to Utahns that the holidays have begun.

And donations to bell ringers in the state this year are up from last year — but not to the point they were from before the recession hit.

"Last time I looked, we were 3 percent over what we did last year. Last year was a miserable mess," said Richard Greene, who supervises all the Salvation Army's bell ringers in the state.

"Last year, in our kettle campaign, we raised a little over $300,000, which is 18 percent below where we were the year before that."

That's with a 20 percent reduction in staff.

Only about two years ago, Green said they used to raise closer to $400,000 and could afford to hire more paid workers.

All the money goes toward helping local families in need. This is the biggest fundraiser the Salvation Army does all year.

There are about 120 bell ringers and red kettles out across Utah on any given day during the holiday season.

Barry, a bell ringer in Salt Lake City, admits his hand gets tired. "You have to switch off back and forth," he explained.

He's also noticed that Mondays and Tuesdays are typically slower. More people donate later in the week, he guesses because it's closer to pay day.

Many say it wouldn't seem like the holidays without the bell ringers.

"It kind of reminds me the season is starting. It's no longer just cold and winter; it's the start of the season, "Olivia Etringer said.

Bell ringers will be out until Christmas Eve, and people typically donate more the week before Christmas, Greene said.

He is hoping for another $25,000 in the kettles.

"Change makes change. When you put change in, change comes out. We help change people's lives with the change people donate," Greene said.

Donations are also accepted online, but such donations only account for less than $1,000, he said.