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The sound of a ringing bell to call for donations is familiar during the holidays. The Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign is underway, and, in West Virginia, donations are down while the need for food is increasing. The nonprofit organization’s annual holiday fundraiser program provides food, toys and more for families.
Amelia Knisely spoke with Maj. Joseph May, the area commander for the Salvation Army of Central West Virginia, which serves Boone, Clay, Kanawha, Logan, Mingo, Putnam and Roane counties.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
KNISELY: Thanks for speaking with me today. Your Red Kettle Campaign is underway, and what do the funds go to in your program in the seven counties that you support?
MAY: Primarily, we’re raising funds to help support and fund our Christmas program, our Angel Tree program to provide food and toys and clothing to children across the seven counties that we have. That program is similar in the other counties across West Virginia in their different locations as well. Any money we raise above and beyond the expenses of Christmas, we put into the general budget to support the programs throughout the year, which includes rent and utility payments, food boxes, our Boys and Girls Club Program, camp programs, just a whole wide range of things the Salvation Army does throughout the 12 months of the year. It is our most prolific fundraising effort of the year.
KNISELY: With inflation being what it is and that we’re still in a pandemic, have you seen your needs increase in the counties that you serve?
MAY: Yes, we have seen some increase due to Covid over the last three years. There’s been a lot of assistance given through government programs during that time, but those programs are starting to close, and we have seen an increase in the requests for food, partially, in the last few months. Those who have had trouble making ends meet are finding it even harder now. With the cost of food, food has been one of the things we’ve seen an increase in requests for.
KNISELY: In 2020, the national commander of the Salvation Army said red kettle donations were expected to drop 50 percent, and I’ve seen headlines just in the last few days that there are continued concerns about donations being down all across the country right now because of inflation and because people are still not out as much shopping in person. How is the campaign going in West Virginia and are you experiencing any of that drop in donations?
MAY: We see a drop in donations, but I wouldn’t say it’s 50 percent in our area. I haven’t done a study to see the percentage amount. But, there has been a drop in the financial support in the last year or so. After Covid, there was a huge increase, and we had a lot of extra support. But now that Covid situation is subsiding, even though we recognize it’s not gone away, but it’s certainly subsided, that level of support has dropped.
Our goal this year is $200,000. Right now, we are at $90,000, so we are not even halfway toward our goal. We are about 3 percent below where we were at this point last year, but we have seen an increase in the last week or so, so that gap is narrowing.
KNISELY: How many bell ringers do you have this year?
MAY: Right now, and we’ve struggled with that, but we’ve had some success in getting some additional ringers in the last week or so. Right now I have about 15 bell ringers. Three or four weeks ago when we started, I had about 10 that I could count on. We have permission from businesses in our area to have 30 – to have 30 kettles open every day. But, we just don’t have the bell ringers to fill those spots.
KNISELY: For people who want to donate, including people who may not be able to donate to red kettle in person, how can they help?
MAY: They can go to www.salvationarmyusa.org. There’s a place on there you can tell where you’re from, and when you get to your local unit, you can make a donation that way. We have a Facebook page: Salvation Army Charleston West Virginia, and there are a number of posts on there that have links that you can donate online. On our Kettle Stands, for people who don’t carry cash, we have a QR code on the back of the sign that they can scan, and that will take them to a website. They can donate that way, they can donate by Apple Pay, Google Pay, PayPay and Venmo, if they want. There’s a number of ways that people can give.
KNISELY: That’s great to know, I didn’t know that. So, if I see someone ringing the bell, and I don’t have cash on me, they have a way for me to still donate electronically as I’m standing there. Good to know.
MAY: Yes, on the back of the sign there’s a sticker that has the QR code, and it actually has a disc you can tap if you have that capability with your phone. You can tap that and make a donation.
KNISELY: Is there anything else you want to add for our listeners?
MAY: We appreciate the continued support of people in our community. They are giving at a great level. We appreciate the businesses that are letting us stand outside their stores. They are very generous. We don’t take that for granted. We could just use more bell ringers. We have volunteers, and we have a few more volunteers than we did last year. I think people are feeling more comfortable coming out after Covid. But, we don’t have enough volunteers so we have to hire some bell ringers.
KNISELY: How long do people have to donate to this campaign?
MAY: Our kettles will be out until Christmas Eve.
KNISELY: Thanks so much for speaking with me.
May also reminded people who have selected children from the Angel Tree gift program to please drop-off gifts before the program’s deadline.