Season of GivingBy BETH BUNCH,
With just nine days left in this year’s Salvation Army Red Kettle campaign, Captain Patrick Connelly said collections to date are a little concerning.
As of Monday only 35 percent of a $200,000 goal had been collected.
“We need to make our goal as this money funds our programs throughout the whole year,” Connelly said. “It’s pretty important.”
Kettles are out in 21 locations around the Pine Belt and will be out through Dec. 23. Normally bell ringers and their famous kettles are out through Christmas Eve, but with that day falling on a Sunday, the Salvation Army doesn’t collect on Sundays.
Not every kettle site is filled every day, but they like to have kettles staffed from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday and Saturday when possible. Kettles are set up at area Walmarts, Corner Market stores, Old Navy, Winn Dixie stores, Big Lots, Hobby Lobby, Sam’s and the Turtle Creek Mall.
The Salvation Army will also be short another day of collections because the bell ringers and their kettles were not out last Friday when parts of the Pine Belt received as much as 6 inches of snow.
“That probably hurt us some,” said Connelly. “We didn’t have people prepared to brave the five inches of snow,” he said. “For people in the North five inches of snow is just an average day, but not in the South. And we didn’t want to put people in jeopardy. We wanted to make sure our people were safe, but I’m sure it affected our collections.”
Because volunteers are hard to come by especially with people who work and have busy schedules, the Salvation Army relies heavily on seasonal employees who are paid for manning the kettles.
“It’s a hiring opportunity for seasonal employment through the WIN Job Center,” Connelly said. “Anyone can apply.” Bell ringers in the Hattiesburg area are paid $8 an hour.
One such person is Gerell Payton, who is visually impaired, and has served as a bell ringer for 11 years.
On Monday, he was his jolly self greeting customers outside the front door of the Walmart on Hwy. 98 West, thanking people and wishing them a Merry Christmas as they dropped bills or change into his kettle.
A new addition to this year’s kettle stands are Dip Jars. With debit cards readily available many people don’t carry around a lot of cash these days, so the Salvation Army has added this new collection device to this year’s campaign. Dip jars accept a debit or credit card and deduct a $4 set donation. Currently Dip Jars are only located at Walmart and Sams.
“It’s encrypted and very secure for the donor,” Connelly said. “We wanted to make sure it was cost effective and very secure before we put those out there. None of the data is stored in the Dip Jar, but run through a cellular line. We didn’t want to have people’s information out there in these unsecure locations.”
Funds raised through the Dip Jar collections are provided back to Connelly in real time. He knows that on Saturday, Dec. 9, $36 was collected through the jars, and since the start of the season, $310 has been taken in.
All of the money collected through the Kettle Drive or through any donation to the Salvation Army stays in Hattiesburg.
There is a 11 percent fee, based on income, that handles accounting, oversite and things of that nature, according to Connelly. The remaining 89 percent stays locally to support the benevolence programs, Boys and Girls program and other SA programs.
While donations are slow, Connelly said historically, the closer it gets to Christmas, “the more generous we see people.”
Connelly’s wife, Stacey, is overseeing the SA’s Angel Tree project. Approximately 1,400 angels were on this year’s tree and all were adopted. “We are now waiting to get everything back in,” he said. Gifts are due back at the Angel Tree at the site at Turtle Creek Mall by Friday, Dec. 15.
“Gifts are distributed on Dec. 20, so we have five days to sort through things and make up the difference for gifts that might not have been returned,” Connelly said.
The Salvation Army was especially busy this past weekend as they worked with the Emergency Management District, Forrest County and the City of Hattiesburg, when a record amount of snow fell in the Hub City.
Because repairs to the Salvation Army’s facilities aren’t yet complete following damage sustained in January’s tornado, the SA joined with the city and county to open the county’s emergency shelter on Sullivan Drive. The shelter was open from Thursday night through Sunday. Normally warm-up shelters are usually open from 6 p.m. until 7 a.m. the following morning, but because the weather was so much worse than predicted, the shelter remained open around the clock. If the shelter is open during a meal period, then meals are served.