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Ring those July bells

The iconic red kettles were out this month in Lima, Ohio, as The Salvation Army took part in the Christmas in July campaign.

Paul Downing, the operations manager in Lima, said bell ringers have been out since the beginning of the month—not battling the frigid cold of December, but the stifling heat of summer. While fewer kettles were out this campaign because of COVID-19 and The Salvation Army use of only local businesses as hosts, the corps hoped to raise $25,000 by the end of the month.

“It’s just a small version of Christmas,” Downing said. “The public seems to embrace it.”

Meanwhile, Salvation Army locations around the country found unique ways to take part and raise money during a time of the year when fundraising is generally a challenge.

In Niagara Falls, N.Y., Major Stephen Carroll said the corps organized 5-K and 10-K races that drew 130 people, who ran along the Niagara River and near a hydroelectric plant. Some runners did the “Christmas in July Kettle Run” virtually.

Carroll said the races were a change from the past five years when the corps held “bucket brigades.” Salvationists walked into stopped traffic carrying Salvation Army buckets, and seeked donations. Carroll described that fundraising technique as “really hard money”—and sometimes dangerous.

“We were looking for something to do that would be a lot more fun and as much a friend-raiser as it is a fundraiser,” Carroll said.

‘Need knows no season’

Carroll’s wife, Major Delia Carroll, and several advisory board members who are runners, suggested the 5-K and 10-K as an alternative. Carroll said Christmas in July is a convenient fundraising theme.

“The summer months are historically drier months financially,” Carroll said. “Christmas in July just becomes a smart theme to use since we raise most our money at Christmastime and people know us for raising money then.

“The fact is that financially our need is greater during the summer. We have a lot going on and historically people stop giving during the summer.”

Carroll said that while people may think more about vacations in July, the Christmas theme makes everyone charitable.

“During the summer is when we really need a little bump,” he said. “We need other ways, not just to raise money, but to draw attention to what we do.”

For example, the corps in Niagara Falls has a community garden that is a huge part of its ministry.

“The runners are very much into health and fitness. So, to get them to walk through our garden and see all of the other work we do encourages them to be more involved in some of our other programs,” he said.

Other corps held Christmas in July events on a smaller scale.

The Pittsburgh Temple Corps is among a dozen non-profits and agencies that displays Christmas trees at the Robinson Mall during its Christmas in July festivities. Shoppers will pick the winning tree and the prize is $500.


Getting creative

Captain Justin Caldwell, the corps officer at Pittsburgh Temple, said the tree’s decorations tell the public about Salvation Army initiatives, such as feeding programs, children’s programming, senior care, Emergency Disaster Services, after-school classes, and Christmas assistance.

“It tells some of the things The Salvation Army does and what we’re doing at the corps,” Caldwell said. “We feel good about our tree. We’re hopeful.”

Several Salvation Army locations in the Southern New England Division took part in Christmas in July. Toy drives helped get a jump start on the Christmas season. Other corps held clothing drives, text-to-donate campaigns, crowdfunding, and percentage of sales events.

“We are expecting an increase in the number of families needing assistance due to the economic effects of COVID-19,” said Major Debra Ashcraft, divisional commander. “Having the support of so many businesses and donors in the community is inspiring and will truly help our neighbors in need.”

The Danbury, Conn., Corps has Christmas in July drop boxes. They are located at Danbury Savings Banks and are for children’s toys, up to age 12.

“I think it’s a nice idea,” said Major Gilbert Parkhurst, the corps officer in Danbury. “A lot of people think of Christmas in July. With everything that’s gone on in the last year, we appreciate anything we can do to get a head start.”

Last year, the corps helped 700 families and seniors at Christmas.


Building strong partners

In Warren, Ohio, Captain Kiley Williams said her corps is expanding the age to 18 for Christmas gifts this year. Among the items she requested for Christmas in July were more teenager-friendly gifts such as art supplies, headphones, earbuds, and anything related to sports.

“We always have a hard time getting gifts for teenagers, so we wanted to start now. We put it out there that we’re looking for things,” she said. “We said it’s for July, but we will take anything at any time.”

While giving has been slow, Williams surmised that families in Ohio are focused on back-to-school efforts. Students return in a few weeks, and she hopes things pick up soon.

In Newport, R.I., the corps partnered with Stop & Shop supermarkets for Christmas in July. For every reusable grocery bag sold, The Salvation Army received $1.

“It’s not anything big or anything we’ve had to work on, but the generosity of the community has been great,” said Captain LeNissa Rivera, the corps officer. “We just put the plea out there and we’ve had a lot of people who have wanted to help.”

The advertising features a watermelon with a Santa cap on top and Rivera noted that the beautiful oceanside photo was taken locally in Newport and is not a stock shot. Rivera said the corps has no goal for the fundraising but is just happy for the exposure.

“For us, it’s always about participation and community engagement,” she said. “We just want to let the community know that we’re here and we’re still serving.”

Rivera said Newport may be touristy and affluent, but there are still pockets of need.

“Christmas in July is perfect for us because people come here during the height of tourist season. But when those tourists are gone, we continue to serve the people who are here the year round. Other people who come during the summer also get an opportunity to help.”

by Robert Mitchell

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