The Salvation Army in Burlington and nationwide is facing a classic economic challenge: more demand coupled with less supply.
The downtown Burlington facility is dealing with a huge increase in demand for food from its food shelf, which offers fresh produce, bakery items and meat, according to Capt. Elizabeth Nicoll, who with her husband, Dominic, runs the local Salvation Army.
Before the COVID-19 crisis, Nicoll said, the food shelf would serve 40-80 households per week. Now, the food shelf is serving 140-160 households per week, doubling the demand on the high end.
Meanwhile, Nicoll said the demand for meals at the Salvation Army facility is down because of all of the other support that is being offered by the state to deal with the crisis. Before COVID-19, her staff was serving 60-120 meals per night, she said. Now, they’re serving 30 to 60 meals.
So demand is way up for the food shelf, down for hot meals. How about supply, i.e. donations? That’s a big question mark right now, as no one knows how the famous red kettles and bell ringers are going to do when they’re deployed in November.
“Our ability to raise vital funds to serve those in need this Christmas and beyond is at risk,” Commissioner Kenneth G. Hodder, national commander of The Salvation Army said, as reported by the Providence Journal. “We need everyone who has the capacity to come alongside us and ensure that the holiday season is bright for millions. We’re asking you to help rescue Christmas with us by providing support in any way you can.”
How will the bell ringers fare?
Kara Alnasrawi, executive director of Church Street Marketplace, where there has traditionally been a bell ringer in front of what used to be the Church Street mall, said she is still working through the plan for the holiday season, and the role the Salvation Army bell ringers will play in it.
Nicoll said the status of bell ringers at national chains like Walmart and Price Chopper in the Burlington area is also up in the air, as it’s dependent on national agreements reached between the Salvation Army and the stores.
“They make agreements and send them down to the local managers,” Nicoll said. “We’re hoping to still be at the same places.”
Just in case, the Salvation Army is putting an emphasis on other ways people can donate, especially in the COVID-19 era and the social distancing it has ushered in. It is also starting its Christmas fundraising campaign early.
Patricia James, public relations manager for the Salvation Army of Northern New England, an umbrella organization for the state chapters, said the kettles will be out this year across the country, with new rules in place.
Bell ringers will wear masks; will stand 6 feet away from the kettle and will move even farther back when someone approaches to donate. The kettles will be sanitized in between shifts.
Fewer people, less traffic, lower donations?
James worries about how the kettle fundraising will go, especially since retail itself is suffering so much as a result of COVID-19.
“We anticipate there will probably be less people out, less flow of traffic,” James said. “Also, people don’t carry cash anymore.”
That’s why the Salvation Army is stressing online donations, even putting stickers on the kettles to remind people they can donate digitally.
“People are afraid of getting too close,” James said. “A lot of these stores we stand at are really struggling, which is really sad. We need funds to help people who lost their jobs. A lot of stores are closing.”
The kettles have been around for 130 years, according to James, starting in San Francisco in 1890. Every year prior to COVID-19, the Salvation Army raised about $126 million nationwide through the kettles, with 82 cents of every dollar going to local needs, James said.
Nicoll said about 40% of the Burlington Salvation Army’s annual income of approximately $250,000 normally comes from the kettles. Even without the threat of COVID-19, she worries about the future of the kettles as a fundraising tool because of the increasingly cashless society that James cited.
“I can’t say I blame them,” James said of people who don’t carry cash. “I do the same thing.”
Still, James remains optimistic about the season.
“If everyone comes together, we can get through this and make it a successful Christmas,” she said.
Contact Dan D’Ambrosio at 660-1841 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @DanDambrosioVT. This coverage is only possible with support from our readers. Sign up today for a digital subscription.