Salvation Army numbers dwindle

The Eagle-Tribune
Published: 11/27/2020 3:11:30 PM

Shoppers who went out to score Black Friday deals might have noticed one less signature sign of the season this year, with fewer red Salvation Army kettles outside local supermarkets and department stores.

The charitable agency says they’re struggling to find volunteers to staff the kettles, and are hoping to encourage donors to fill in the predicted 50% drop in donations.

According to Salvation Army Communications Director Heather MacFarlane, the volunteers normally called upon to staff the seasonal kettle drive are aging and, given the coronavirus pandemic, they can’t perform those duties because they are at a greater risk for COVID-19.

Area Salvation Army locations in the Merrimack Valley and southern New Hampshire are also facing a challenge this year, MacFarlane said, because some locations where bells have rung in the past are not allowing volunteers back this year. Reasons include the fact that small businesses closed due to the coronavirus crisis, she said.

In hopes of assisting families in need across the region this holiday, MacFarlane said locations including those in New Hampshire, are taking part in the nationwide effort the Salvation Army calls “Rescue Christmas.”

In addition to the traditional ringing bells and red kettles in various cities and towns, the Salvation Army is seeking donations in a high-tech, coronavirus-friendly manner. This year, at many red kettle locations, scanning a QR code will allow donors to make a contactless donation via their cell phone. Donations are also accepted via text message, by sending RESCUECHRISTMAS to 41444.

Volunteers at kettle locations also accept donations through Apple Pay and Google Pay in many cases, said Marcus Jugenheimer, general secretary of the Salvation Army’s Massachusetts division. Not only does it add a layer of safety amid the COVID crisis, it helps at a time when coins are scarce, he said.

“We started those payment options last year before the pandemic, realizing that people were carrying less cash,” Jugenheimer said. “This year, that also translates into contactless giving. It provides an opportunity for people to donate and feel safe. We also accept donations on our website, salvationarmyma.org — there’s many pathways to give. All money given goes to the local Salvation Army to assist with local efforts.”

In places like Haverhill and Newburyport, for example, smaller tabletop versions of the iconic red kettles will be scattered throughout the city at local businesses to collect donations.

Salvation Army Major Lynnann Rivers, who oversees the Haverhill location with her husband, Walter, said that this year she’s been forced to think outside the box — or, kettle — to create fundraising opportunities.

“I have a couple businesses that took countertop signs I had and some of our folks from church took car magnets, so there are people riding around with car magnets that say ‘Donate today,’ ” Rivers said. “We’re trying to get the word out that we need everyone’s help to rescue Christmas. It isn’t just about Christmas, but about continuing services throughout the year.”

Indeed, the money collected during the holiday season extends well into the new year to fund all programming the Salvation Army does, explains Derry’s Lt. Todd Adcox. The Derry location also serves the towns of Windham and Londonderry, he said, with his location’s ambitious holiday fundraising goal forced to be curtailed this year from $160,000 to $130,000.

“This money funds everything we do,” said Adcox, who uses money to fund food and music programs, church ministries and after-school initiatives. “It’s our biggest fundraiser of the year.”

Lawrence Major Mayra Fonseca, too, worries that critical services could be cut in her city if holiday kettles are not filled.

“Our food pantry service has doubled since the pandemic,” Fonseca said. We used to help 60-80 people over two days, but since the pandemic we help 150 people each day.”

The Lawrence Salvation Army’s Bridging the Gap program, one of 13 such services offered statewide to assist at-risk youth, was put on hold due to a lack of funding, Fonseca said, and will not be re-implemented unless money is available to hire someone to oversee the program. For now, Fonseca relies on a lean team of dedicated volunteers, including Youth Pastor Paula Baigorria, to fill in the necessary gaps.

Adcox, like those he works with, wants donors to know that it is safe to give and volunteers to know it’s safe to give back. The Salvation Army has instituted a comprehensive COVID-19 policy to keep bell ringers and donors protected amid the pandemic.

“Our buckets are sanitized before and after every donation and our bell ringers are required to wear masks,” he said. “When a donor steps up to make a donation, the volunteers can take a few steps back to give the other person some space.”

The Salvation Army “Rescue Christmas” campaign runs through Christmas Eve, organizers said, with need expected to increase by more than 150% compared to last year.

“Families in the past who have been our supporters will now be our service recipients,” explained Jugenheimer. “For those who can give this year, we need it now more than ever.”

How to volunteer: Visit salvationarmyma.org or call your local corps location.

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.



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