CITYWIDE — Every year, you see them.

They stand at street corners and in front of busy shopping areas, bundled against the not-so-cold Southern California winter armed with a bell, a Santa hat and a smile to raise money for the unfortunate in what for many is a desperate time of year.

This Christmas season, Salvation Army recruits and employees took over 21 spots in Santa Monica, Venice, Malibu and Pacific Palisades for a successful holiday fund drive that will support the organization in 2012.

The Red Kettle Campaign was crafted by Capt. Joseph Mcfee in San Francisco in 1891. Since, it has grown to include 25,000 workers and volunteers that collected $142 million nationwide in 2010.

The Santa Monica area raised approximately $91,000 between Nov. 18 and Dec. 24, a $10,300 increase over the donations from 2010.

Still, the total fell short of the ambitious $100,000 goal the Salvation Army set, said Dawn Wright, director of marketing and communications for the Salvation Army’s Southern California division.

“We’re disappointed that we fell short of the goal, but we’re so grateful that we met this year’s $80,000 budget, and that we exceeded last year’s donations,” Wright wrote in an e-mail.

Of the 21 locations that helped with the kettle drive, people parted with the most cash at three Santa Monica grocery stores, specifically the Albertsons on the 2600 block of Lincoln Boulevard ($5,834), the Pavilions on the 800 block of Montana Avenue ($4,231) and the Vons on the 1300 block of Wilshire Boulevard ($3,596), according to Salvation Army statistics.

A host of Santa Monica service organizations took part, including the Elks Lodge, Jaycees, Kiwanis Club, Lions Club, Rotary Club, Soroptimist Club, Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary and the Pacific Palisades Optimist Club.

All but the last hail from Santa Monica, noted Capt. Mario Ruiz of the Salvation Army.

Each of the service organizations competes against the rest for the spot of top fundraiser. This year, the Rotary Club walked away with the honor, which member Ron Davis attributed to the club’s members.

“We have a lot of people dedicated to fundraising for the community, and have a lot of heart for people less privileged,” Davis said. “It doesn’t surprise me.”

That spirit of giving is a hallmark of Santa Monica in general, said Ruiz, a 10-year veteran with the Salvation Army, who has worked in Santa Monica for the past year and a half.

“I’ve seen how generous the community is and how caring it is,” Ruiz said. “They care about the community and the people that live here.”

It couldn’t come at a better time.

Regional and state unemployment rates were generally lower in November than December, according to a report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

California’s seasonally adjusted rates fell .2 percent, but the overall unemployment rate in the state was 11.3 percent, well above the 8.6 percent seen across the country.

From his position working with the Westside’s needy, the high unemployment rate and other factors are still hitting California families hard, Ruiz said.

“It’s been getting worse. What we’re noticing is that the people who used to give to the Salvation Army are now in need themselves,” Ruiz said.

Unemployment, a divorce or a death in the family can change the entire family structure, and those living middle class lives before can find themselves at a loss.

“One of the problems that we notice is that when you lose everything, you feel you can’t find a way out,” Ruiz said. “You start to lose hope and faith … Sometimes when they’re able to come and we can give them something, it gives them some hope.”

One elderly woman whose husband died recently came to the Salvation Army seeking help with an electricity bill she could not pay. A case worker told her that they could help, and the woman began to cry, Ruiz recalled.

She told them that she had been on the point of suicide, and this was her last stop.

“We — the Salvation Army, myself and the families and individuals that we have helped — say thank you for having caring hearts and compassion for others,” Ruiz said.

If anyone would like to make a donation to the Salvation Army, they can send a check to: The Salvation Army, P.0. Box 7065, Santa Monica, Calif., 90406.

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