Ringing for giving: Salvation Army says it is ‘way behind’ in this year’s Red Kettle campaign

The bells are ringing, and the Salvation Army is hoping for a lot more giving.

Capt. Amy Tompkins, who leads the local Salvation Army, admits “we are behind by a great deal right now.”

At the end of November, the Red Kettle Campaign had raised only $11,000, which is 7.6% of the $145,000 goal, Tompkins said.

When you look at the need without our community, the Salvation Army, headquartered at 2525 Illinois Ave., needs more than the goal, she said.

“We’ve had several people who have seen their income decrease by 30% while inflation is (reportedly) up by 40%,” Tompkins said. “There are also a couple of companies who will only allow their employees to work a few days each week. The prices for necessities are up significantly, so it’s harder to make ends meet.”

The Salvation Army’s food pantry serves about 1,000 households weekly, as well as sponsors the Bags of Hope grocery delivery service to shut-ins. Donations also provide emergency rent and utility assistance, in addition to sponsoring year-round activities for people of all ages, Tompkins said.

During the holiday season, the Salvation Army also sponsors an Angel Tree program that allows a donor to pick an ornamental angel with a name on it, so they can purchase a gift for that person. Eligible people include children up to 15-years-old, prison ministry children, seniors who are 62 and older and adults with special needs.

All the good work done in a variety of ways by the Salvation Army prompted Dakota Laktonen to ring the bell Friday outside the Hobby Lobby in the Clifty Crossing Center. This is the third year that Laktonen, 29, has volunteered to sit in the cold, ring the bell and collect money for the Salvation Army.

“They do a wonderful job and they need to keep going,” Laktonen says. “We need to give more love and support.”

Laktonen, who formerly lived in Colorado, says he enjoys volunteering for the Red Kettle Drive because “I just like to spread out joy and cheer to people.”

Most shoppers who don’t order items online are using either a debit or credit card these days, Laktonen said. But he also pointed to a code on the organization’s sign that can be scanned with a mobile device for electronic donations.

After the isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic began dissipating last year, Tompkins said her organization was hopeful the worse was behind them. Instead, she said the Salvation Army now has more people seeking assistance.

“They are coming back to us because they can’t make ends meet,” Tompkins said.

To make things worse, the Red Kettle Campaign began nine days later than its normal Nov. 1 start date.

More bad news emerged when one of the larger retail outlets in Columbus that had been a top money-maker for the Red Kettle Drive was forced to stop solicitations for charity outside their store.

“The corporate office is making some changes that impact all of their stores,” Tompkins said. “It was nothing against the Salvation Army.”

Another adverse factor is that local residents don’t feel as much incentive to donate to a holiday charity when temperatures climb above normal.

“The colder it is, the more people feel sorry for our bell-ringers, and the more money they donate,” Tompkins said. “And we have some very dedicated bell-ringers.”

But while one store dropped its support, other corporate and philanthropic organizations are beginning to step up to the plate.

Bender Lumber did a match to support Tompkins’ organization the day after Thanksgiving. This is also the first year that the Salvation Army began working in conjunction with Sam’s Club on matching contributions on Giving Tuesday (Nov. 29).

From now through Saturday, the Custer Nugent Foundation has agreed to do a kettle match for the campaign, Tompkins said.

Last year, local retiree Howard Tucker rang the bell with a Santa Claus suit, and raised $900 over a six-hour period. That is three times the normal amount collected during that period of time.

Tucker was at it again on Nov. 19, and raised $600. While he has been temporarily sidelined for health reason, Tompkins is hopeful he’ll be ringing the bell later this holiday season.

“We usually have a couple of groups who do come out to ring the bell in costume,” Tompkins said. “We are still waiting for them to sign up at registertoring.com. We hope they will be willing to not only ring the bell, but also donate whatever they can afford.”

A number of the bell ringers have tried to heighten the holiday spirit by wearing Santa caps and playing Christmas music, she said.

Finally, the Red Kettle Campaign doesn’t end at Christmas. Donations to the campaign are accepted through the end of January, she said.

“The kettles are what brings us through the entire year, as well as providing meals, Christmas gifts and other items,” Tompkins said. But while the holiday campaign is the largest annual money-making activity, the Salvation Army works to raise funds all year.”