By Sandy Scarmack
Herald Staff Writer
MERCER COUNTY —
While donations to the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle drive normally take a dip in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, overall donations across a 28-county region are down more than $307,000 compared to last year at this time, according to statistics released this week by the organization.
Donations in the Shenango Valley from its eight kettles had raised $8,600 as of Saturday, said Capt. Scott Flanders, but he said he had “buckets and buckets of coins at area banks waiting to be counted.”
Still, he said, the fact that Thanksgiving was later in the month than usual has led to a shortened season and the agency is far away from its $65,000 goal.
In Greenville, donations from five kettles had brought in $11,634 as of Wednesday, said Capt. Laura Dusenberry, but she echoed Flanders’ sentiments about the shortened season. She has set a goal of $40,000.
“Last year at this time we had $18,500. We’ve pretty much lost a week with Thanksgiving being later this year,” she said.
In most cases, she said, the arrangements the Salvation Army has with local businesses don’t permit them to start collecting until after Thanksgiving.
Both captains said they were optimistic that donations would increase, particularly during the week leading up to Christmas.
“When people first see the bell ringers and the kettles, it’s usually right after Thanksgiving, on Black Friday, and they’re glad to see you. Then, the nostalgia wears off and donations take a dip. Then the week right before Christmas we see a spike in donations again,” Flanders said.
While tossing coins in the kettle is the obvious way to help, Flanders and Dusenberry both said they still have a great need for bell ringers. It’s difficult to cover multiple shifts at multiple sites, Dusenberry said, and “the more bell ringers we have the better off we’ll be.”
The warmer weather the last few days hasn’t done much for the Christmas spirit, Flanders said. “The colder weather puts people more in the mood.”
Money raised from the kettles goes to support all the programs the Salvation Army offers, Flanders said, among them providing meals, shelter and other assistance to people in crisis situations, as well as sending children to a summer camp.
Donations can also be made online at www.OnlineRedKettle.org. Money will be funneled to the local chapter based on the ZIP code of the donor, Flanders said.
“I spent $2,000 just on turkeys last week to provide Thanksgiving to 759 families,” Flanders said.
He also said he would like to remind givers that the Salvation Army has helped the community for 127 years and was there through the tough times of the 1980s and earlier, when the steel industry collapsed.
“Not just Depression-era people. I’m sure there are people who can remember their parents saying ‘Always give to the Salvation Army because they were there for us’ and we were,” Flanders said. “For people when their Dad was laid off or on strike and they needed a helping hand, we’ve always been there.”
And more people than ever are seeking that helping hand, Flanders said.
“We have five lines coming in here and the phone literally rings off the hook all day long, with people needing assistance.”
In the last month, 231 people asked for services for the first time ever.
“That’s a big deal for a one-month period,” he said.
He credits the Community Food Warehouse of Mercer County and the United Way for assisting them in meeting that demand.
In partnership with Walmart, the Salvation Army will host a “Fill The Truck” toy drive today from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Hermitage store. Customers can drop off new, unwrapped toys at the trucks and in the bins in the store until Dec. 15.
The Walmart Foundation also donated $1 million nationally to the Red Kettle campaign.
Flanders said the Treasures for Children program that provides Christmas toys for younger children has 900 families from the Shenango Valley who have requested a gift, an increase of 130 from last year.
“The response has been overwhelming. We set up trees and gave out tags and they were all gone and we needed more tags,” he said.
Dusenberry said in Greenville they also provide gifts for teenagers and they have requests for 250 children’s toys and for gifts for about 60 teens.
To volunteer to ring the bell at a kettle in the Shenango Valley, call 724-347-5543; in Greenville, call 724-588-5190.