COVID-19 has thrown The Salvation Army’s typical Christmas fundraising campaigns for a loop.
Nationally, the Army expects that 155 percent more people will seek Christmas assistance this year. The U.S. unemployment rate remains high and many people are still struggling.
At the same time, the safety of using traditional red kettle campaigns are in question and a 50 percent decrease in funds raised this year is expected. This is due to a host of issues such as consumers who carry less cash and fewer coins and who do more online shopping. The permanent closures of many brick-and-mortar businesses is also a factor.
For the first time in 130 years, some corps have started early kettle campaigns under the #RescueChristmas initiative. Last year, $126 million was raised by way of 30,000 red kettles.
“Our ability to raise vital funds to serve those in need this Christmas and beyond is at risk,” said Commissioner Kenneth G. Hodder, national commander of The Salvation Army.
“We need everyone who has the capacity to come alongside us and ensure that the holiday season is bright for millions. We’re asking you to help rescue Christmas with us by providing support in any way you can. Our hope is to offset these challenges to meet the increasing demand for services across our nation.”
Around the USA Eastern Territory, corps leaders are getting creative to raise money. Some are employing early kettles and others are finding alternatives.
The Greenfield, Mass., Corps –Lieutenant Paul Leslie said the traditional red kettles will be out on Nov. 2, a few weeks earlier than usual. However, he also has placed small countertop kettles in 25 to 30 local businesses.
“It’s an area of income we haven’t really utilized in recent years,” Leslie said. “We’re trying to bring back some old revenue sources.”
Leslie said safety concerns related to having volunteers stand at a traditional kettle led him to consider the countertop kettles as “the next best thing.”
“It’s a contact-free way for people to donate,” he said.
The countertop kettles also allow people to donate digitally with Apple Pay or Google Pay. Leslie said local businesses were “super excited” to have the digital option, which allows people to donate with a cell phone.
The corps needs the help, too. Before COVID-19, corps workers served 60 to 70 people at their feeding program, a number that has risen to 100.
“With Christmas coming, we normally serve 200 families,” he said. “We’re expecting to see at least 250 families who are going to be applying for toys or food baskets.”
The Mount Vernon, Ohio, Corps—Their story is similar said Captain Christine Moretz. Physical kettles will be out Nov. 17, but Moretz has been posting announcements online to let people know all the options to donate early, including via text or online. People can give any amount by texting “KETTLES” to 91999. Donors can also ask Amazon Alexa to donate by saying, “Alexa, donate to The Salvation Army,” and then specify the amount.
“We have been reaching out to our community to again be ‘The army behind the Army’ to assist so many who have lost jobs and businesses due to COVID–19 and those who simply find themselves in need for the upcoming holiday season,” Moretz said.
The Mount Vernon Corps also holds its annual Toy Ride this Saturday, a motorcycle ride that raises awareness, money, and new toys. The event raised $14,000 last year.
In late September, the corps kicked off the Christmas season early with an open-air worship event on the city’s public square. A local car club helped with a drive-thru toy drop-off that collected 30-40 toys and monetary donations.
An oversize kettle was also on hand for anyone who wanted to donate.
“It’s really a spinoff of things that we’ve already done or the community has already done,” Moretz said. “We’re just kind of pushing it this year because of the heightened need. We know the need is going to be greater, so we want to be able to provide in the community.
“We’re working with our board and getting creative and talking to people about giving more options and creative ways of how to donate safely with the health crisis.”
Moretz said Mount Vernon is a generous and philanthropic area.
“This is a wonderful place to minister God’s grace and work alongside wonderful people who understand what it is to serve,” she said. “The congregation, the advisory board, the employees, the volunteers, our community partners, and our friends are truly co-laborers in Christ—soldiers in this battle.
“We march on, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, standing on His Word, loving God, and loving one another.”
The Lancaster, Pa., Corps—Lieutenant Mike Buzzard said physical kettles will be out mid-November, as usual.
“We’ve actually just done the #RescueChristmas rollout and just tried to do an initial kickoff for that,” he said. “We’re also about to roll out the virtual kettles. We are leaning more toward community interaction through online giving.”
Buzzard said Lancaster has a lot of proud family-owned businesses that could host kettles, but the concern is how to safely make that happen.
“We kind of put the ball in their court,” Buzzard said. “Do they have any new and creative ideas that they’d like to try? If there is ever a time to try new things for fundraising, now is the time.
“Our challenges have been to get creative and share the word out there. We are blessed. We have many people who have stepped up and supported The Salvation Army and they have not wavered in that support.”
Buzzard said the corps holds a “Coats for Kids” telethon in conjunction with a local television station and this year’s event will be digital.
“We’re turning it into an online giving thing,” he said.
The corps served 1,000 children with coats last year and is planning contact-less pickups of the coats.
“The biggest struggle with COVID–19 is how to serve creatively and safely,” Buzzard said.
The Salvation Army of Greater Rochester, N.Y. —Major Doug Burr said kettles are not the first option for fundraising.
“Kettles are going to be the ‘Plan B.’ We’re going to go elsewhere to raise money in different ways. If we can do kettles, that will be a part of what we bring in, but it’s not going to be our primary.”
Burr also said The Salvation Army has a great relationship with the media in Rochester and the plan is to hold a few old-school telethons on television and radio.
“We’re hoping that, if all goes well, it will be the primary income for us for Christmas,” he said.
People can also give by becoming regular monthly supporters; donating physical gifts in bulk; and becoming Angels through The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program.
Christian singer Lauren Daigle’s hit “Rescue” serves as the anthem for this effort which helps The Salvation Army meet the needs of more than 23 million people a year.
by Robert Mitchell
Visit RescueChristmas.org to donate or learn more about how you can help The Salvation Army rescue Christmas this year. If you need services or know of someone in need, please visit SalvationArmyUSA.org to find a location near you.