At grocery stores and public corners around the Commonwealth, fewer people are reaching into their pockets and giving to those festively dressed volunteers ringing the old, familiar bells of the Salvation Army.
Five weeks into its annual Christmas red kettle drive, the Massachusetts division of The Salvation Army has collected less than $1.2 million, down 22 percent from last year and well short of the $3.4 million it collected in 2010, said Trish Raines, a regional spokeswoman for the charity.
Donations are off by the widest margins in urban areas. The financial giving is down 53 percent in Chelsea and East Boston, 47 percent in Attleboro, 45 percent in Waltham, and 36 percent in Worcester. Boston is down about 38 percent, Raines said.
The question now is what happens to local Salvation Army programs and services if donations do not improve over the next few weeks.
“A decrease in donations will certainly have an impact on the services we’re able to provide, but we trust that the American public will dig deep and continue to give back this Christmas season,’’ Raines said.
As global economic troubles continue, the numbers cannot exactly be called shocking.
“The numbers are disappointing, but not necessarily surprising, considering the challenges of the current economy,’’ said Paul Grogan, president and chief executive officer of The Boston Foundation, a group of charitable organizations in the city. “They also underscore the level of need we face this winter, at a time when aid coming to the region for critical winter needs is being cut sharply.’’
Other Bay State charities have been experiencing similar problems this year.
“Programs are very concerned because of the cumulative effect - each year, trying to do more with less,’’ said Toni Troop, spokesman for Jane Doe Inc., a prominent women’s charity that works with several other programs. “While a few programs reported successful annual events in the past few months, they are more the exception than the rule.’’
But even nonprofits that are not facing reduced donations are overburdened by an ever increasing amount of people who need services.
Heather MacFarlane, spokeswoman for The Home for Little Wanderers, said nearly 3,000 toys have been donated for its holiday drive, but about 3,000 more are needed. This year, many whole families have gone to the nonprofit because parents cannot afford gifts for their children or to each other.
“We’re seeing more families this year in our community-based programs,’’ MacFarlane said. “The need has definitely increased this year, but there’s more awareness out there. There are more people hosting toy drives for us and trying to get their families and businesses involved. Hopefully that will make a difference.’’
Judy Salerno, director of the Foundation for MetroWest, a nonprofit umbrella group for communities in the MetroWest area, agreed.
“The measure is not donation trends. Even if they were up, the problem is that need is way up. The resource gap is bigger,’’ she said.
‘The numbers are disappointing, but not . . . surprising.’Paul Grogan The Boston Foundation
Raines said this has been a problem for The Salvation Army, too.
“In recent years, as people have struggled in this economy, we’ve also seen an increase in the number of people coming to The Salvation Army for help for the first time. People who used to give . . . now find themselves in need of assistance,’’ she said.
Nationally, The Salvation Army has also turned to the Internet for donations, allowing people to create their own virtual red kettle and solicit donations. By last night, the online initiative had only raised 17 percent of its $3 million goal.John M. Guilfoil can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globe_guilfoil.