Coronavirus: Salvation Army anticipates drop in red kettle donations

Coronavirus: Salvation Army anticipates drop in red kettle donations
A Salvation Army volunteer rings a bell in front of a red kettle at New York City's Rockefeller Center. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images)

Salvation Army bell ringers are a holiday tradition, but donations for the annual Red Kettle Campaign could be less this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The charitable organization relies on its red kettle donations to raise enough money to help millions of Americans during the holidays, NPR reported. Diminished store traffic and more people in financial straits are causing the Salvation Army to seek other ways to raise cash.

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“Right now, we are anticipating the Red Kettle Campaign will bring in about 50% less than last year,” Kenneth Hodder, the Salvation Army’s national commander, told NPR.

Last year, the Salvation Army’s bell ringers raised $126 million, the network reported. But cash contributions have dropped sharply, although there has been an increase in clothing donations.

“We cannot possibly do everything the public expects us to do unless we come up with different ways by which they can support our work,” Hodder told NPR.

According to the Salvation Army’s website, the Red Kettle Campaign began in 1891. That is when Salvation Army Capt. Joseph McFee, dismayed by so many poor people in the San Francisco area, decided to provide free Christmas dinners. He came up with the idea of a red kettle, placing a sign next to it that read, “Keep the Pot Boiling.”

The idea took hold, and in 1897 more than 150,000 people were fed Christmas dinners through donations.

The Salvation Army assists more than 4.5 million people during Thanksgiving and Christmas, according to the charity’s website.

In 2020, another problem caused by the pandemic is fewer volunteers to man the kettles.

Central Virginia Commander Captain Jason Burns said part of the problem is that fewer people are willing to volunteer during the pandemic. The 20% decline in donations he’s expecting in his region will have a direct impact on services they can provide.

“Every kettle represents a service that we can do,” Burns told WRIC-TV. “So for every hour that we have a ringer out there, that’s five families that we can feed.

“For every day we put someone out there, that’s five days that we can have someone in a shelter.”

Some people are trying to help ease the decline in donations.

In Alabama, an anonymous donor is going to match all donations dropped into the red kettles Saturday in Lauderdale, Colbert and Franklin counties, WAFF reported.

“Whatever you give is going to be matched so help us rescue Christmas,” Salvation Army worker Benjamin Deuel told the television station.

Bell ringers are wearing masks and practicing social distancing, NPR reported. All kettle equipment is cleaned at various intervals during the day.

Donors are not required to touch the kettles, NPR reported. There will be a QR code on every kettle, allowing people to donate electronically using their smartphones.

Hodder said he is expecting a demanding holiday season due to the economic stress caused by the pandemic. Black Friday weekend is normally a big draw for donations, but some retailers are not participating, curtailing foot traffic. Throw in a national coin shortage, and the problems are compounded.

“People usually put their loose change into the kettles,” Salvation Army Maj. Donald Dohmann, an area commander in Hampton Roads, Virginia, told NPR. “But if they don’t have any, they might not donate.”

Harold Hepfer, 81, a Salvation Army volunteer in the Kansas City area, has been ringing bells for 41 years.

“I’m gonna wear my mask, gloves and ring my bell,” Hepfer told NPR. “I think this is really important because it takes money to help. And right now a lot of people need help.”

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