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Pandemic takes toll on Salvation Army’s bell ringing

With higher numbers in need, Red Kettle Campaign struggling to meet demand

Salvation Army volunteer Fred McCorkle mans the red kettle on Tuesday at Walmart. Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski

Officials with The Altoona Salvation Army Worship and Service Center said the impact of COVID-19 has increased the number of residents needing assistance, decreased the availability of volunteers and lowered donations since the mid-November start of the Red Kettle Campaign.

“We want to remind the community that we are in a pandemic, but the need doesn’t stop and the need keeps growing,” said Captain Larry Fulmer, who serves Altoona as the lead pastor and Corps Commanding Officer. “We want to be here. We want to be present with our city and our community during the pandemic.

“Numbers are rising of people who need assistance, specifically due to the pandemic. We are committed to helping those who have been specifically affected by COVID-19. So many have lost their jobs and their hours have been cut. Many of them are finding themselves getting behind on other bills.”

Safety measures are in place at kettle locations. Bell ringers wear masks and maintain social distancing as people approach, and the kettle top, where donations are slipped into the kettle, is sanitized regularly — a minimum of every 30 minutes, he said.

“If we had more bell ringers we would be in better shape,” Fulmer said. “Contributions are down significantly but people are still giving.”

Money raised locally stays in Altoona, he said, providing assistance to those in need through assistance with utility bills, food, clothing and basic needs assistance. Funds also are used for community outreach, children and youth and senior programs.

Locally, bell ringers can be found at 10 kettles in six different locations. They will be manned from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fulmer said they are doing the best they can to staff the locations but additional volunteers would help keep all stations manned and reduce reliance on paid bell ringers.

In a typical year, the Salvation Army has 15 to 18 “regular” volunteers who are supplemented by volunteers from area churches and community service organizations, such as the Altoona Sunrise Rotary Club and Skills of Central Pennsylvania. This year, they have about a dozen “regulars.”

Priority is given to manning the kettles at Walmart and Sam’s Club entrances, two high-traffic areas.

At Walgreens, a countertop kettle has been placed at the checkout, Fulmer said, to maximize volunteers at other locations.

Another change is at the Logan Valley Mall, where one bell ringer is at a more central, higher traffic location on the first floor near Bath & Body Works instead of at the food court. Additional mall locations include the J.C. Penney Co. and Applebee’s entrances. Two more kettles are at Hobby Lobby’s two entrances and an additional one at Boscov’s. These are manned, if enough volunteers are available, Fulmer said.

People also can contribute online, knowing the money will reach local residents based on the donor’s ZIP code. To give, visit the Treasures for Children program at www.salvationarmywpa.org/TFC.

Through a monetary donation, The Salvation Army will purchase a toy on the donor’s behalf.

The donation will provide toys for children in need in the donor’s ZIP code. Last year, The Salvation Army Western Pa. Division provided more than 100,000 Christmas toys to vulnerable children.

Stephanie Rex, Salvation Army director of Marketing and Public Relations, said “It is estimated that we will serve up to 155% more people this year with Christmas assistance — helping to put food on the table, helping to pay their bills, offering a safe place of shelter and warmth, and providing gifts and toys for children.”

The Salvation Army in Altoona is part of the Western Pa. Division, which covers 28 counties. The Division goal is $2.3 million, and the local goal is $110,000 — the same level as last year, Fulmer said. Kettles will remain in the community through Christmas Eve.

“I am confident the com­mu­­­­­nity will stand with us and support us,” Fulmer said.

To volunteer as a kettle bell ringer, call The Altoona Salvation Army Worship and Service Center office at 814-942-8104.

Mirror Staff Writer Patt Keith is at 814-949-7030.

By the numbers

How donations help those in need:

* $25 provides a toy for a child on Christmas.

* $50 provides a family of six with a food box to prepare a holiday meal.

* $100 provides utility assistance for a family in need.

* $250 provides 25 hams to families in need for their holiday meal.

* The Salvation Army’s Western Pa. Division provided 256,054 meals and 72,118 food boxes during the first three months of the pandemic, equal to 70% of the total meals and 50% of the total food boxes provided throughout the last fiscal year.

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