As Brad Engdahl left the Rosauers on East 29th Avenue on Friday afternoon and his feet approached the parking lot pavement, Salvation Army bell ringer Thomas Baker wished him a good night.
Engdahl turned around and his eyes found the red kettle. Then he paused to dig into his pocket. His hand came out with a fistful of coins to donate and he walked back to the kettle.
“I can afford to give,” Engdahl said. “The weather is cold and there are people that need it.”
Salvation Army Spokane Maj. Ken Perine said he thinks of the bells ringing outside shopping centers from Black Friday to Christmas Eve each year as the sound of hope, motivating people to drop spare change into their red kettles in support of social service programs.
Those pennies, dimes and dollar bills add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars each year for the Salvation Army.
“It’s our biggest fundraising event of the year,” Perine said.
But this holiday season, with six fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas than 2018 and a declining number of people carrying cash, Spokane Salvation Army officials sounded the alarm in an announcement last week. The nonprofit has projected it will fall $84,000 short of its fundraising goal of $350,000.
At least 40% of the charity’s $10 million annual budget comes from donations, Perine said. Similarly, about $4 million of its budget is direct donations of goods and services, rather than money.
Brian Pickering, Salvation Army Spokane’s director of development and communications, said he hopes the Spokane community will rally around the nonprofit once it learns about its donation shortage.
The Salvation Army also is seeking out more help from volunteers to ring bells for the kettle campaign on Sundays and during the week. And it needs help to find sponsors to buy Christmas gifts for 20 local families.
There are 67 red kettle sites around the Spokane area this year. Pickering said it’s easy to see how the donation shortage can add up if you think about having six fewer days of fundraising, multiplied by 67 locations.
This year the Salvation Army debuted signs with QR codes so smartphone users can donate using Apple Pay or Google Pay. People can also give online at makingspokanebetter.org.
At a high-traffic red kettle site, like the Rosauers on East 29th, Baker said he gets a donation every three to five minutes during the day, and more during Friday and Saturday evenings. Baker said he’s seen a couple of people use Apple Pay at the South Hill location.
“You can usually catch me singing or ho-ho-ho-ing just to break the ice with people,” he said.
Baker is one of a number of paid bell ringers who supplement the volunteer work for the fundraiser. The program is meant to provide people with work and social skills, Pickering said.
Five years ago, when Baker was struggling to find work, bell ringing was his first job after recovering from major eye surgery. Now he comes back each season to supplement the other seasonal jobs he found using his Salvation Army experience.
“I’ve been kind of getting myself rebuilt back up,” said the 51-year-old, who enjoys putting smiles on people’s faces, regardless of whether they donate. “It makes me feel like I’m part of the season of what Christmas is.”
In addition to Christmas social service events that involve giving out toys and food, the red kettle donations help fund the local Salvation Army’s two emergency care facilities, two shelters and its food bank operations.
“Our services and programs are year-round, and we’re helping people get a hand up, not a handout,” said Pickering, who thinks of the Salvation Army as a bridge between homelessness and housing. “We don’t want them to stay where they’re at. We want them to thrive.”
Perine said he doesn’t believe recent negative news coverage of the Salvation Army’s national organization regarding its documented history of discrimination against LGBTQ people has had an effect on fundraising in Spokane.
“That is just a lie that keeps perpetuating itself, and it’s completely not true,” said Perine, who noted Salvation Army National Commander David Hudson’s recent opinion column in USA Today, in which Hudson said the charity does not inquire about sexual orientation before offering help. “My problem with that whole thing and talking about that subject is we see everybody the same. If someone is in need, we’re going to help them.”
If the Salvation Army Spokane does fall short of its goal, “we’d have to adjust the services we’re giving,” Perine said, “which we really don’t want to do.” He said Salvation Army Spokane has met its goal each of the three Christmas seasons he has led the organization.
Heather Porter walked up to Baker’s kettle Friday afternoon and each of her three daughters had a dollar to donate.
“We teach (our kids) lots about giving,” Porter said. “We know (the Salvation Army) does a lot of good work.”
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