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Salvation Army brings out the kettles, starts Christmas campaign two months early due to COVID-19

“We need to be out in the community to raise funds ... and help rescue Christmas for thousands of families,” said Jackie Rachev, director of communications for the Salvation Army’s metropolitan division.

Carey Ferrantelli of the Salvation Army rings a bell for donations near Millennium Park on North Michigan Avenue on Monday, Sept. 14, 2020.
Carey Ferrantelli of the Salvation Army rings a bell for donations near Millennium Park on North Michigan Avenue on Monday.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The familiar sounds of holiday handbells arrived early this year.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Salvation Army launched its annual red kettle fundraising campaign Monday — two months earlier than the 135-year tradition usually starts.

To promote this year’s effort, titled “Rescue Christmas,” 75 kettles were placed along 18 blocks of Michigan Avenue, from Walton to Madison streets. The kettles were out for just a couple of hours Monday, and are going away until Nov. 9, but the Salvation Army is urging people to donate online in the meantime.

Since the pandemic began, requests for help to the Salvation Army in the greater Chicago area are up about 500%, said Jackie Rachev, director of communications for the Salvation Army’s Metropolitan Division.

“We need to be out in the community to raise funds ... and help rescue Christmas for thousands of families,” Rachev said.

From the start of the pandemic through July, Rachev said the local Salvation Army has given out around 114,000 bags of groceries and almost $700,000 in emergency financial assistance for rent, utility bills and other expenses.

The Salvation Army’s national goal this year is to raise $25 million, with $2.5 million of that from the kettles, according to Rachev. That’s why the campaign is starting early.

“We want to make sure we have enough runway to make it,” she said. “When we make that goal, that means we’re able to serve everyone in need.”

Peter Mount, a Salvation Army captain, believes the early flood of requests likely will continue through Christmas. A successful campaign means being able to provide toys, utility assistance, and food — with food being one of most common requests during the pandemic.

Salvation Army Capt. Peter Mount near Millennium Park on North Michigan Avenue on Monday, Sept. 14, 2020.
Salvation Army Capt. Peter Mount was at a red kettle near Millennium Park on Monday. The annual holiday fund-raising effort started two months early this year due to the pandemic.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

“To make people aware of both the need and the ways that they can give to support what we do — to then enable us to serve those within our community — is really important,” Mount said.

With social distancing and people staying home, Rachev encouraged online donations. All kettles also will accept touchless payments through Google Pay and Apple Pay.

Bell-ringers wear personal protective equipment, and will wipe down kettles for those who donating cash, she added.

The kettles are important to show people “there are so many of their fellow human beings that are in need,” Mount said.

“What a great opportunity we have as a community to pull together and to come together to serve those who are less fortunate than ourselves.”

That’s especially true during a year Rachev called “unprecedented.”

“We know the community has already found themselves in tough circumstances,” she said. “This is another time we need them to rally around, care for their neighbors.”