Ramping up to meet unprecedented community needs in the economic catastrophe precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, The Salvation Army this year is rolling out its red kettles, those traditional harbingers of the holiday season, very early and online-only, for now.
On Monday a virtual red kettle opened to receive donations at HawaiiRedKettle.org as the nonprofit organization launched a new “Rescue Christmas” initiative.
“‘Rescue Christmas’ is to make sure we can meet people’s needs even if the kettles are not able to raise as much as in a regular year,” said Major Jeff Martin, divisional leader of The Salvation Army Hawaiian &Pacific Islands.
The early start to a lengthier holiday campaign aims to meet a growing need for food and other necessities, as well as the ability to give holiday gifts, at a time when the highly contagious virus makes in-person fundraising more fraught, slow and complicated, Martin said, noting that this holiday season, funds are in short supply while needs are at an all-time high.
Since the state’s first lockdown in late March, “we’ve definitely seen the needs growing,” he said. “All of our food pantries are finding increased numbers of individuals coming in, many of whom had never sought help before, and many who said they had no other source of support.”
For example, between October 2018 and June 2019, the organization served 465,596 free meals. From October 2019 through June, The Salvation Army served 727,411 meals, “an increase of about 156%,” Martin said, adding that the goal is to help 156% more people this year than in 2019, when they served more than 88,000 individuals in Hawaii.
He said that while the organization’s Red Kettle and Angel Tree campaigns center around making sure that everyone, especially children and seniors, receives a Christmas gift, meal and other seasonal comforts and cheer, Red Kettle constitutes The Salvation Army’s annual fundraising drive, money from which is budgeted to serve community needs throughout the year.
“We’re working hand in hand with Aloha United Way and several other agencies to help people get money under the CARES Act for rental and other assistance,” he said.
While the familiar physical red kettles and bell ringers will begin to appear, as usual, on sidewalks, in malls and stores starting around Thanksgiving, The Salvation Army could see up to a 50% decrease in funds due to the closing of retail stores, consumers carrying less cash and coins, and a general decline in foot traffic, Martin said.
Last year, $126 million was raised in Red Kettles nationally, including approximately $700,000 in Hawaii. All funds raised in Hawaii, including on the HawaiiRedKettle.org website, are distributed in Hawaii.
During the pandemic, The Salvation Army’s Pathway of Hope project and volunteers from its Kroc Center Hawaii have been delivering food and providing information about housing, job and health resources to homeless campers in Waianae and Kapolei, and its Kaneohe Corps has been delivering food boxes to senior living communities, while meals are served and social service connections expedited at its main Kauluwela Corps in downtown Honolulu.
“The Salvation Army was a bright light for us, with their ability to provide food and connect with us,” said Barbara Tom, coordinator for the Waipahu Safe Haven Immigrant Migrant Resource Center.
Tom said that during June, July and August, when most of the families the center serves couldn’t drive to free food distribution sites because they lacked cars, The Salvation Army came to the community, signed up people for their food donation program and helped organize drive-thrus where food was delivered to apartment buildings, “and residents had appointments scheduled to come down and pick up their food in a safer way.”
Now that Honolulu is on lockdown once more, she sometimes calls The Salvation Army to tell it about someone who’s trapped at home without help, “and they send someone with bags of food,” Tom said. “You need that safety net in the community.”
During the holidays, physical red kettles will accept cash and change as usual, but there will be an additional feature: a screen where people who want to make contactless donations can scan a code and give digitally, Martin said, adding that the kettle setups will adhere to national health guidelines as well as local regulations.
But don’t wait, Martin said: “We humbly ask donors to step up now as we navigate the pandemic and serve communities during the upcoming holiday and Christmas season.”