Chad Arnold, New York State Team and staff reports
ALBANY – The Salvation Army's Red Kettle fund-drive is off to a slow start in New York this year, which may have long-term ramifications on the annual charitable campaign in years to come.
Donations are down 24 percent from this time last year, according to The Salvation Army's Empire State Division, which includes all counties in the state north of Greene County.
The Salvation Army has hosted the Red Kettle campaign that runs every year from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve for the last 128 years. Proceeds from the drive fund programs serve more than 23 million people nationwide and more than 225,000 across upstate.
A shorter than normal campaign season and inclement weather are responsible for the decline, said Jeremy Miller, a spokesman for Salvation Army's Empire State Division.
"Thanksgiving fell at the very end of the month. Usually we have almost another week to ring and collect," he said.
He said the upstate campaign is about $500,000 behind compared to this time last year.
Corning Salvation Army Captain Wanda Rivera said charitable campaign is lower than expected across the state.
“I think part of the reason for the slow start is because (the drive) start Thanksgiving Day, at the end of November,” Rivera said. “Some stores, like Walmart and Walgreens, don’t let (bell-ringing) start in front of their businesses until Black Friday. I pray every day that we can still reach our goal of $65,000 by the end of Dec. 24, in Steuben County.”
And a massive winter storm that dumped more than two-feet of snow in some parts of the state during one of the busiest shopping times lost the campaign an additional two days of ringing, Miller said.
Assistance for upstate New Yorkers
The Salvation Army assists more than 225,000 New Yorkers across upstate by providing after-school programming and shelter for victims of domestic violence and the homeless, among other efforts.
A majority of The Salvation Army's work — like food pantries and summer camp programs — is funded by proceeds from the Kettle drive, according to Miller.
The needs of New Yorkers shifts from community to community, Miller said, but there are commonalities across the state like poverty and homelessness that need to be addressed.
"There's an underlying theme to all of these factors and it really is hope," he said.
The lack of donations this year isn't going to stop The Salvation Army from assisting those in need, but it may put the organization behind for future Kettle seasons, Miller said.
"We will find a way to do it, but we don't want to have to enter next Kettle season, the next holiday season already looking at an uphill climb," he said.
A last-minute push
With less than a week remaining in the Red Kettle drive, The Salvation Army is hoping a last minute rush of shoppers to local malls and retail stores will lead to a spike in donations.
The 23rd is one of the busiest days in the entire drive, Miller said, but the organization has also expanded its presence online to accept donations via text or credit card for those looking to give who may do their shopping online.
And on Dec. 20, the charity is issuing a $20 challenge across New York in the hopes of making up some of the funds.
"A $20 donation on the 20th across the entire division...would go a long way toward helping us make up that ground," Miller said.
The charity has also introduced Kettle Pay this year, which allows potential donors to give using their smart phone by scanning a Q-R code or by placing their phone to the Kettle for iPhone 10s and above or Android devices made after 2012.
Miller said he is "optimistic" The Salvation Army can make up the funds, but added the charity will persist regardless.
"We will find ways to make this work," he said.