Bell ringers are hard to find this year.

Monitor staff
Published: 11/26/2021 3:00:37 PM
Modified: 11/26/2021 3:00:12 PM

The numbers have Maj. Rick Starkey of the Salvation Army concerned.

The director of the Concord chapter says it’s not the loss of revenue, which is what happened last year due to COVID. The cause is rebounding nicely this holiday season, during what is called the annual Red Kettle Campaign.

The chilled smiles and ringing bells attached to the year’s most visible fundraiser greet you annually like an ingrained piece of the Christmas landscape. 

The problem thus far, Starkey says, is finding volunteers and seasonal employees to flash those smiles and jingle those bells.

One day this week, Starkey saw an all-too-familiar scene: three of the seven slots in the city had no one minding the kettle. That’s never been the case.

COVID left workers out in the cold, at coffee shops, restaurants and fast-food places. That pool of employees has been slow to return, spurring some businesses to offer far more than Starkey’s $10 per hour.

“If I had someone who wanted a seasonal job, we could do that,” Starkey said. “Stations can not fill up because no one wants to work there anymore. There’s help-wanted signs everywhere. You can work outside or you can work inside for $14 an hour.”

Starkey has hired lots of ringers. School groups, church groups, Kiwanis, Rotary. But the COVID-induced exodus from the workforce hasn’t yet fixed itself.

The money raised through the campaign is essential to the Salvation Army’s operations, accounting for 25% of its overall yearly budget, Starkey said.

By midweek, after setting a goal of $75,000 for 2021, the Salvation Army had collected nearly $10,000 since kettles opened for business on Nov. 18, and Starkey said that about two-thirds of the overall money will be raised over the last two weeks, until the deadline on Christmas Eve.

Red Kettle Campaign volunteers and staffers are outside six days a week, eight hours per day. They’re off Sundays. Two-hour shifts for two people are available. Full-time work is available as well.

The tradition started 130 years ago in San Francisco. Free Christmas meals were handed out to the poor, and within five years, 30 Salvation Army posts had opened on the west coast.

Starkey and his wife have given their lives to the Salvation Army. He emphasized it’s a church, first and foremost, with the goal of helping others.

He attended bible studies at the Army while growing up in Pittsburgh, Pa. He attended the organization's summer camp as a teen, working there for nine summers.

After high school and a job as a program assistant in the Pittsburgh chapter, Starkey met his wife, and the two began their journey, a commitment that's way more than a job.

The couple attended a seminar together in New York City and were named officers in 1995. They were commissioned in Massachusetts, in Springfield, Malden and Boston. Then came work in Middletown, Conn. Kingston, N.Y., and, for the past 4½ years, here.

Starkey, who’s 51, has been a Salvation Army officer now for 27 years. He’s an ordained minister and says this is not just a job. Not to him.

“I grew up in it,” Starkey said. “It’s like a gradual process. As pastors, we think it was our calling. If this is not what you were meant to do, you’ll know it and you should not be here. It’s not an occupation.”

This marks Starkey's fifth Christmas in Concord. He said the Army raised $95,000 in 2019, then just $55,000 last year, when the world was turned upside down.

The money, a big chunk of the annual budget, is used to fund the Salvation Army’s McKenna House, which offers emergency housing and case management. Also, staffers and volunteers buy clothes and food and toys, store vouchers are distributed, and there are overhead and building costs.

The Red Kettle Campaign closes on Dec. 24. Starkey isn’t sure if he’ll have each of the posts covered through the rest of the month, at both Market Baskets, Walmart, Sam’s Club and Shaw’s. Walmart and the Market Baskets each have two entrances for kettle work.

That’s seven. 

“Every day we count the money and deposit it each day,” Starkey said. “Concord has been very generous despite the lack of people working on this, and we expect that to increase as we get closer to Christmas.”


Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.



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