Christmas is near and the American public is being ringed to give to the needy. Yet the familiar red kettles of The Salvation Army are lacking the volunteer help to get those bells ringing and the money chiming into the buckets.
Every year since 1891, The Salvation Army has been raising millions of dollars in communities nationwide with red kettles set up in front of large retailers such as Wal-Mart stores and shopping centers during the holiday rush of gift-buying. This year's national Christmas red kettle campaign kicked off on Thanksgiving Day.
However, volunteer bell ringers are becoming harder to come by on, according to local corps officers of the Christian organization.
"It's unreal," commented Major Wanda Browning, corps officer for Harbor Light in Washington, D.C., for The Salvation Army, who also mentioned there were "always less" volunteers than what was needed.
The lack of volunteer help has led to a hiring of workers who are paid to ring the bell.
"A lot of people assume that all of our volunteers are volunteers, but that's not the case," said Captain Michael Rojas, corps officer of the Montgomery County, Md., for The Salvation Army.
"We had to do more advertising to get as many bell ringers as last year," said Rojas. "The main problem is a lack of volunteers."
Still, overall fundraising efforts have not been affected throughout the years of volunteer shortages. Rojas reported that they were "a little bit ahead" in collected funds so far compared to last year.
Local Montgomery red kettles have been fashioned in front of Giant Supermarkets, Safeway stores and shopping centers including K-Mart, Wal-Mart and local malls, according to the county corps officer. This year, the Montgomery County is looking to raise $170,000 which will be directed toward helping the needy local community.
The need this year is greater than previous years as the nation was swept by a series of storms and the American public has responded in unprecedented ways to contribute to the relief and recovery efforts for the thousands affected. Large scale assistance, however, has placed smaller local needs off the radar.
"We did a lot of assistance for people in the Gulf Coast region as well as people relocated here," said Rojas, "and the public has been very generous in donations for hurricane disaster relief.
"However, what we find to be the case is that people give to the big national disaster relief efforts and kind of tend to forget that we still have needs in our community. Local people suffer."
The red kettle campaign that is set up regionally across the nation is calling attention to the smaller, yet still much needed local communities. To encourage such support, bell ringers are also reminded of their significant role and need.
"We could always use more volunteer groups," said Major Tony Barrington of the Alexandria Salvation Army.