The sights and sounds of a Salvation Army bellringer and kettle are some of the most iconic of the holiday season, but this year is especially challenging for the Salvation Army, as we deal with Covid-19.
Lieutenant Wayne Benedict, Director of Operations for the Salvation Army of Elkhart County, said that the need for assistance is way up this year.
"Our need has went up three times, if not more in different areas. We’re seeing an increase in rent assistance, we’re seeing and increase in utility assistance for sign-ups for our Toys For Tots program that we work hand in hand with Toys For Tots," Wayne said.
And while need is up this year, the availability of volunteers is down.
"Not only are we having problems getting bellringers, we’re having problems getting volunteers." Wayne explained.
But, while the need is up, the Salvation Army is expecting few donations in the kettles with fewer people out shopping.
"And while the foot traffic in all the stores has dropped, the people carrying cash and coins has dropped. So our income is projected to drop 50%, while our need has gone up three times," Wayne added.
The good news is that the Salvation Army anticipated some of these challenges and, while the bellringers started a little over a week ago, fundraising efforts began in mid-September.
"This is the earliest start at the Salvation Army in our 130 years of our bell ringing and Christmas fundraising program," Wayne said.
The Salvation Army has also found a way for bellringers to go virtual.
"This is what’s cool about the Salvation Army. We constantly have to come up with new ways to meet the needs of the community and still raise the funds in able to do that. So, you can go to saelkhart.org and start your own virtual kettle, right from your desk, right from your home, right from your couch and you can challenge people in your family or have little competitions where whoever can raise the most money. You can share it on Facebook on different social media aspects and it’s just a neat way to stay safe, still donate and still be able to give back to the community," according to Wayne.
And for people who do want to go out and ring the bell in public, the Salvation Army is doing its best to make that safe.
"We’re doing the best we can to stay safe. We have our bell ringers who are required to stay six feet away from the kettle. They have their PPE gear. They have masks at all times. They have sanitizer available. The kettles are sanitized. The bells are sanitized. The aprons are sanitized, so we’re doing what we can do to keep the community safe and still get the presence of the Salvation Army out there," Wayne emphasized.
One big hardship for the Salvation Army’s fundraising came just a few days ago, when they had to make the decision to cancel one of their largest fundraisers.
"We had to cancel the gala. That was a hard decision we had to come up with but recently, the Lerner has shut down anyway and with the new restrictions coming out the gala wouldn’t happen, regardless. But we just wanted the community to know that we put the safety of everybody in the community first and foremost and we will just find different ways to raise the income needed. But we do appreciate all those who have sponsored the gala with the anticipation that it could be canceled it has been," Wayne said.
Wayne laid out how people could help out, if they wish to.
"You can go to saelkhart.org and donate right there. Make sure you hit the button to stay local, that way the money comes directly to the Elkhart Salvation Army or you could go to register to ring to volunteer or you could even send in gift cards because we’re finding that there’s an age gap from 13 to 18 where the kids are getting left out a little bit. So, I know that’s a crucial time in kids lives and we want to meet the needs for the kids also."
Despite the challenges raising funds this year, The Salvation Army does want to help out those in need but the cut off for this year’s assistance program is coming up according to Wayne.
"Online, at saelkhart.org, there a spot for Christmas assistance. Know people need to get on the bacll with this because we stop, our cut off date is the end of November. I believe it’s the 27th , so we’ve been doing this for a month and a half now for Christmas assistance, so we’re reaching the end."