Cold weather and only eight days until Christmas.

That makes this week the most productive in terms of donations to the Salvation Army, the beneficiary of both the Union Leader Santa Fund and bell ringers scattered throughout Greater Manchester.

Cold weather makes donors more sympathetic to those in need, according to Salvation Army captain Mike Harper.

"The closer it gets to Christmas and the colder it gets, people get into the holiday spirit. They tend to give more," Harper said.

As of Friday, The Union Leader Santa Fund had collected $126,630 in donations from individuals, businesses and organizations in the Granite State. The Salvation Army relies on the Santa Fund for about 13 percent of its annual revenues, revenues that go for Christmas meals and gifts, as well as other Salvation Army programs such as Kids Cafe, summer camp and cold-weather coats for kids, Harper said.

Another $84,000 has been collected so far in Salvation Army kettles located at malls, supermarkets and shopping centers in Manchester and Bedford.

Harper said the goal is to collect $134,000 through the kettles. As much as one-half of kettle collections come in the week before Christmas, he said.

The Union Leader Santa Fund allows people to donate to the Salvation Army from the comfort of their own home, either through mailing a check or logging on to www.unionleader.com/santafund.

It also represents an avenue for businesses and employers to contribute to the Santa Fund. Many businesses have done so for years; some have just started.

This was the first year that Bedford-based Rise Private Wealth Management donated. Co-founder Brent Kiley said he always donated to Santa Fund individually. His firm, which manages $750 milllion in investments, launched two years ago, and it recently compiled a statement of mission, vision and values. One of its six values is philanthropy, and that meant a $1,000 donation to the Santa Fund.

"I read the paper and see the stories (about Santa Fund recipients)," he said. "They need a little bit of help to clear obstacles. That's what we're all about."

One of the highlights of the Santa Fund takes place Monday - Toy Shop, when the Salvation Army hands out gifts to 1,170 families who have signed up for help, Harper said.

The distribution takes place at the Radisson Center of New Hampshire, and 100 volunteers will help parents select toys and other items for their children. A limited amount of Christmas wrap is available, he said.

Every family is given an appointment, and a volunteer assists the parent. Allowing a parent to select the toys and other gifts preserves their dignity, Harper said.

Harper stressed that the Santa Fund donations are an essential part of the Salvation Army, and they help with unforeseen circumstances. For example, the Salvation Army is helping eight families who have moved here from Puerto Rico, which was crippled from hurricanes in September.

This is Harper's second year at the Manchester Corps of the Salvation Army.

"It blows my mind to see how generous people are," he said.

mhayward@unionleader.com