Amid concerns about COVID and cashless consumers, how do those who ring the Salvation Army bells?


Every winter for nearly a decade, Van Dodd volunteered to be the bell ringer of the Salvation Army, wishing a Merry Christmas to passersby – whether they stopped to drop change or a or two dollars into his iconic red kettle.

Many people passed by, perhaps giving an amused nod; others completely ignore his holiday cheer.

Then, says Dodd, there are brief precious moments when he can engage a mother, father, and kids in a fun conversation. The parents put the money in the pot, left with a smile, and their kids clutched the candy cane.

“I am a happy person. I wanted to get people off their shelves, trying to brighten their day,” said Dodd. “I called [red kettle] bell for nine years. When I moved here from Indiana for my job last October [2020], I immediately went to the Salvation Army office to volunteer again. ”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salvation Army bell ringer Van Dodd helps Siennna Froerer put some change in a red kettle at a shopping center on Parleys Road on Tuesday, Dec. year 2021.

Dodd, a 58-year-old father of three grown children, was assigned a spot in front of Walmart at 2705 E. Parleys Way in Salt Lake City, the same bell station he returned to in December of this year. . He admitted with a sigh that in an increasingly cashless society, the rattle of coins and the rustle of greenbacks entering his kettle have been less frequent this year.

“The spirit of giving is not the same,” he said. “People are too hasty, too busy, with everything thinking about COVID, will [it is safe] to stop and let go. … Sometimes, as long as I stand at the kettle, maybe people will come for something.”

Nationwide, the Red Kettle campaign saw its contribution drop from a record $146.6 million in 2015 to $142.7 million in 2018 and later. That dropped to $126 million in 2019. It got worse as the coronavirus took hold in 2020, with donations to Red Kettle dropping to $118.9 million.

Captain Rob Lawler, officer in charge of the Salt Lake City Salvation Army, said Red Kettle donations here have dropped from $329,000 in 2018 to $211,000 in 2019 and just $100,000 in 2019. last.

The pandemic has also made it a difficult task to recruit seasonal workers – whether volunteering or being paid as temporary workers. From about 70 Red Kettle workers in 2018, Lawler was able to count about 20 on any given day last week, the midpoint of the 2021 holiday campaign.

“Our biggest need right now is volunteers,” says Lawler. “At the moment, we have stores that are completely free of bells.” (Those interested are encouraged to visit volunteer website.)

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salvation Army bell ringer Van Dodd waves to customers at a shopping center on Parleys Road on Tuesday, December 14, 2021.

Concerns about the contagion of the ongoing pandemic, health-related restrictions on gatherings and businesses, related economic woes and a shortage of volunteers have been bad enough – but A more enduring factor has been the push away from cash in favor of digital transactions.

While the Salvation Army has experimented over the past few years with offering cashless options at its Red Kettle sites, alternatives like Google Pay, Apple Pay, PayPal or Venmo have yet to compensate. offset the drop in real money.

Accurate amounts for direct digital payments to ringers are difficult to measure, as those dollars are included with online donations made through the organization’s “Virtual Red Kettle” app. determined nonprofit. (As of Wednesday night, Salt Lake City Website raised just $14,000 through that option, very low compared to its $35,000 online fundraising goal).

“Cash is still our main way,” says Lawler. “For example, when I worked shifts at a kettle for an hour and a half last week, maybe three people took the time to [scan in electronic donations]. ”

He won’t be long, though, when actual red kettles and bells won’t be part of the Christmas shopping experience.

“It’s tradition,” Lawler said of the charity 130 Years Old Red Kettle Program. “You see it in the movies, on TV. That’s who we are to a lot of people. Christmas wouldn’t be the same without the red kettles placed in front of the stores where they shop.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salvation Army bell ringer Van Dodd thanks a woman as she puts some money in a red kettle at a shopping center on Parleys Road on Tuesday , December 14, 2021.

Dodd, despite the cold to wait another year, agreed wholeheartedly. He also has fond memories of the Salvation Army’s childhood and its bells.

“Giving was something my mother always emphasized to me, to give back when I reached a certain age, to make sure that everyone who needed help got help,” recalls Dodd. “That’s what she’s been doing all her life.”

So in 2021, despite the challenges and dwindling donations, he’s still trying to keep his Christmas spirit, and that of others, alive.

“It’s been a tough couple of years, so this year means trying to get back to more regular activities,” says Dodd. “We need this new year off to a good start, and at Christmas everyone can have a happy, if you help them – and everyone seems to need help.”

https://www.sltrib.com/religion/2021/12/18/amid-covid-fears-cashless/ Amid concerns about COVID and cashless consumers, how do those who ring the Salvation Army bells?

Ryan Perry

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