The sound of the holiday season is officially here as the Salvation Army's bell ringers take to the streets in Boston and across Massachusetts.

The organization's annual Red Kettle Campaign started Monday, with a ceremony in Star Market on Huntington Avenue, and by Tuesday bell ringers like Leonardo Asencío were bundled up against the cold and ready to raise money for those in need this holiday season.

Asencío, who is from the Dominican Republic, doesn't speak much English and he hasn't always had it easy since emigrating to America. But thanks to help from nonprofits like the Salvation Army, he's doing OK. Now, he says volunteering as a bell ringer is his way of giving back.

"It helps the shelters, it helps the poor people and it helps the women who can't pay for their children's needs," he said in Spanish.

From now until Christmas Eve, more than 400 bell ringers like Asencío will man red kettles across the state, six days a week — rain, sleet, snow or hail — to help raise enough money to help all those in need in Massachusetts this holiday season.

This year's goal is to raise $3.5 million statewide. After yesterday's kickoff ceremony, the Salvation Army was already well on its way there. Thanks to the generosity of Shaw's and Star Market, and honorary Red Kettle Campaign chairman Jay Ash, state secretary of housing and economic development, the organization raised $1,200 yesterday, Salvation Army spokesman Drew Forster said.

The organization's longstanding relationship with Shaw’s and Star Market stores are critical to the success of the organization's holiday giving efforts. Nearly $265,000 was raised at the stores' locations in Massachusetts last year.

The need, Salvation Army officials say, is great.

“We see new people requesting Salvation Army services each day, including many individuals and families who never imagined they would need our help,” said Maj. David B. Davis, divisional commander of The Salvation Army Massachusetts Division. “We are seeing families with two adults working who can’t make ends meet. Others are struggling to cover the rising cost of food and utilities."

Donations from the Red Kettle Campaign finance a variety of local services, and the money raised stays in the community in which it was donated. The Salvation Army expects that the number of people in need across the commonwealth will be at or near record levels this year.

Recent economic indicators reveal that poverty levels remain largely unchanged across the state, despite recovery in some sectors.

The money raised is an essential source of funding for programs and services for tens of thousands of families, youth and senior citizens statewide, Ash said.

The donations also provide meals, toys and other holiday support for those in need, along with money for food pantries, soup kitchens, social services and education programs throughout the year.

“The work of The Salvation Army is integral to so many Massachusetts communities,” Ash said. "The Salvation Army depends on the funds raised from the Red Kettle Campaign so that they can provide crucial services to people in need.”

The kickoff for the Red Kettle Campaign comes as the Salvation Army completes an online auction for more than 60 jewelry items donated during recent Massachusetts Red Kettle campaigns.

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