The pandemic has sobering implications for a holiday staple: The Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign, which annually deploys thousands of bell ringers to raise funds for community-based programs.
This year’s campaign, like many other things in 2020, will be significantly scaled back.
The Salvation Army’s Massachusetts Division predicts it will only collect half of the $2.6 million it raised in 2019 during the annual campaign. Those funds have helped more than 400,000 families across the state with needs that range from food to rent to utility bill assistance.
Nationally, the Salvation Army raised about $126 million last year through more than 30,000 red kettles, and that amount is also projected to be reduced by half for 2020.
At the same time, the Salvation Army predicts the need for its services is on track to skyrocket by 155 percent. The pandemic continues to leave people out of work, meaning some of those who may have previously donated may now be one of the many in need of assistance.
A main reason for the drop in donations, according to Marcus Jugenheimer, the general secretary of the Salvation Army’s Massachusetts Division, is the lack of places willing to host kettles and bell ringers. The organization normally sets up more than 1,000 donation kettles around the state in highly trafficked areas, such as shopping destinations, street corners, and grocery stores, but this year there could be closer to 500.
Some businesses have opted out of the in-person fund-raising.
“There are some locations we are not permitted to stand at this year due to COVID, and we certainly understand those concerns,” Jugenheimer said. “Other locations have closed due to loss of business.”
At stores where there will be in-person kettle donations, Jugenheimer said the group expects to see a decline in foot traffic since the pandemic is driving more consumers to do their holiday shopping online.
The organization says that bell ringers will adhere to strict safety protocols, including wearing masks and sanitizing kettles after every donation. Those making donations will also have the option of using Apple Pay, Google Pay, or a QR code to donate.
The Salvation Army hires some of its bell ringers, while others volunteer. This year, the group expects to hire half of the staff it normally brings on for the seasonal position, and it will schedule workers for fewer and shorter shifts. Bell ringer positions typically last around six weeks.
“We wouldn’t want to put a paid worker at a location where we are not going to collect as much money . . . that impacts the net greatly,” Jugenheimer said. He added that many regular volunteers have opted to sit this year out.
“Our volunteer base . . . tends to be an older population, retired folks, who of course are the ones most at-risk for COVID,” he said.
Safety concerns prompted some communities, such as Framingham, to decide early on to ban businesses from hosting in-person kettle campaigns, said Heather MacFarlane, the Salvation Army’s communications director for Massachusetts.
To combat this year’s challenges, the Salvation Army is doubling down on its effort to attract digital donations, regardless of whether a town has kettles. All communities will have a “virtual kettle” online, where people can choose a specific community to support with their donation.
“Moving online is something that has been necessitated by COVID,” Jugenheimer said. “For those people who might drop a dollar in the kettle 20 times, we encourage them to drop a $20 bill once. Better yet, do it online.”