Salvation Army hopes to close $1 million donation gap in new red kettle campaign

The agency struggled to answer rising requests for help during the pandemic as donations fell because fewer people were out shopping.

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Major Caleb Senn, Salvation Army Chicago Area Commander, rings a ceremonial bell to kick-off the Red Kettle campaign outside the Jewel at 6107 S. Archer Ave. Monday, November 7, 2022.

Major Caleb Senn, Salvation Army Chicago Area commander, rings a ceremonial bell to kick off the Red Kettle campaign outside the Jewel at 6107 S. Archer Ave. on Monday.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Can you hear bells ringing? It’s the sound of the Salvation Army asking for your donations now, more than ever, for its annual red kettle campaign that kicked off Monday.

Donations dropped $1 million each year during the pandemic, according to Caleb Senn, commander of Salvation Army Chicago Area.

“We took a pretty significant hit,” Senn said. “We’re hoping this year to see those pre-pandemic numbers bounce back.”

The agency struggled to answer rising requests for help, which increased 500% at the start of the pandemic, as donations simultaneously fell because fewer people were out shopping.

The nonprofit hopes to close that gap by attracting more volunteers, some of whom were too wary to help during the COVID-19 pandemic, Senn said.

The Salvation Army kicked off its campaign Monday with kettles at about 150 Jewel-Osco stores in northern and central Illinois, Senn said.

After Thanksgiving, bells will ring at 800 kettles at other businesses including Walgreens, Walmart, Mariano’s and JC Penney.

The Salvation Army hopes to raise $11 million in the Chicago area by Christmas Eve, Senn said. That’s over 60% of what the agency receives annually.

Volunteer bell ringer Barbara Vaglica rings a bell for the Salvation Army outside the Jewel at 6107 S. Archer Ave. Monday, November 7, 2022.

Volunteer bell ringer Barbara Vaglica works Monday outside the Jewel at 6107 S. Archer Ave.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

The kettle campaign began in Chicago in 1901 to provide Christmas meals and toys.

The Salvation Army provides shelter for people who are homeless as well as food, drug prescriptions, rental assistance and disaster relief.

In the last year, the Salvation Army Chicago chapter answered more than 985,000 emergency assistance requests. The agency also distributed more than 1.3 million meals and 284,000 bags of groceries.

“For us, it’s about helping people out all year round,” Senn said.

The agency also heeded the call to help migrants bused to Chicago this year from Texas and Florida. It sheltered thousands of migrants at its two Humboldt Park shelters before they were moved to hotels outside the city, according to Brian Duewel, spokesman for the Salvation Army.

Barbara Vaglica rang a bell at a red kettle Monday morning outside the Jewel at Archer and Austin avenues in the Garfield Ridge neighborhood.

Vaglica, who has been a volunteer bell ringer for eight years, said she was inspired to help after using a Salvation Army food pantry.

“I wanted to help them because they helped me,” said Vaglica, who lives across Archer Avenue.

She signed up this year to volunteer five days a week. On colder days, she keeps warm by “bopping around” and “a lot of hot chocolate,” she said.

Donations are also accepted at Give.SalvationArmyUSA.org. Volunteers can sign up at RegisterToRing.com.

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