Saturday had been a good day for the Salvation Army in Alexandria. All over town, volunteers had been ringing bells and filling the Army's familiar Christmas kettles with donations and holiday hope.

Then, on Saturday night, a man with a handgun took it all away.

"He came downstairs to where we were counting the money, put a gun in my wife's face and told her it was a holdup," said Capt. Steve Smith, commander of the Salvation Army's Alexandria post. "My wife said, 'You've got to be kidding.' "

Smith said the gunman fled with all the money collected Saturday, which he estimated was at least $2,000. Because it was a busy shopping day and the collection was relatively large, Smith said yesterday, the theft may force his group to cut back its Christmas giving.

"It's going to strain our budget," he said. "The money, like all our Christmas donations, would have been used to buy toys and food.

"When we give out food baskets, we also include vouchers so people can pick up several days' worth of food. One of the things I'm considering is doing a little less on those vouchers."

According to the Alexandria police, the robbery occurred about 9:30 p.m. at the Salvation Army headquarters in the 1800 block of Mount Vernon Avenue. Smith said that volunteers had just finished bringing in the day's donations and that two workers -- his wife Louise and another volunteer -- were starting to tally them.

"The man pointed a gun at them and told them to lie down on the floor, which they did," Smith said. "Then he took all the money that had been counted on the table and the rest that was in bags, and ran."

Smith said that the Salvation Army's Alexandria Christmas drive raised about $60,000 last year but that donations this year are running behind that pace, largely because there are fewer volunteers. But he said the group is pressing ahead.