RINGING ALERT: Salvation Army kettle campaign starts early amid pressing need

The traditional kettles outside stores won't be in place until the day after Thanksgiving, but countertop fixtures are now being put in place at businesses. Organizers say the need this year and in 2021 will be great. File photo

HANCOCK COUNTY — The Salvation Army’s red kettles are going high tech.

Many aspects of this year’s annual Red Kettle Campaign have been adjusted due to the pandemic.

Those donating can choose between the standard method of dropping cash and coins into the kettles, or scanning a QR code with their cell phones to bring up various options for donating electronically, including Apple Pay, Google Pay and credit cards.

For now, the plan is to have smiling bell ringers stationed at each kettle, but those plans may change if the number of COVID cases continues to increase.

“We do know the bell ringers won’t be wearing the red capes this year; they’ll be wearing masks, and we’ll have hand sanitizer and will stay busy sanitizing those bells,” said Jill Null, a local Salvation Army volunteer.

While the pandemic has forced the Salvation Army to make some changes, the virus has also caused the demand for charitable giving to skyrocket, she said.

“So far this year, we’ve helped 420 people, and those numbers are up by at least a third from last year,” Null said.

While the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign is conducted nationwide each Christmas season, the funds raised in Hancock County only benefit those within the county.

The local chapter doled out more than ? of financial assistance to ? recipients last year, to people ranging in age from 3 months to 85 years old.

“We’ve helped people all over the county,” Null said. This year the nonprofit has seen an increased need for help with financial assistance to prevent eviction and to keep utilities turned on.

To meet the growing demand for assistance, the Salvation Army of Hancock County has increased this year’s goal to $50,000, compared to the $40,000 collected last year.

“It’s been a challenging year for all nonprofits, but we are pretty certain we are going to need more funds to meet the demand next year than what we had this year,” said Jim Peters, another local Salvation Army volunteer.

“We ran out (of funds) this year, so we’re trying to pull out all the stops.”

While the pandemic has caused needs to increase and could potentially impact giving — especially since fewer shoppers may be passing by red kettles due to social distancing — the Salvation Army is devising ways to make this year’s campaign new and exciting.

This year, donors have the option of not only donating electronically but also posting team challenges online to encourage their friends, family and co-workers to raise money.

Bell ringers can also take part in a costume contest, with pictures posted online.

“We’re just trying to make the campaign a lot more fun and a lot more user friendly. We want everyone to have a good time with it while hopefully raising the funds necessary to meet the needs which have increased exponentially since March,” said Null, a longtime bell ringer who has passed the tradition down to her daughter.

Peters is also a longtime bell ringer and was among the volunteers setting out the countertop kettles at businesses throughout Hancock County this week as an early start to the Red Kettle Campaign.

The larger red kettles on stands — the ones typically accompanied by a cheery volunteer ringing a bell — won’t make an appearance until the day after Thanksgiving. They will stay out through Christmas Eve.

In Hancock County, the kettles with bell ringers can be found outside Walmart and Kroger in Greenfield and Needler’s Fresh Market in New Palestine.

Many businesses are also setting up counter kettles throughout the county.

While the local Salvation Army is a great source of support, Null said the good work they do wouldn’t be possible without a strong network of other nonprofits who work collaboratively to serve those in need.

It takes a village, she said, especially in such an unprecedented year.

The Hancock County Community Foundation has done a tremendous of pulling assistance providers together and helping them network to serve the greater good, Null said.

“If the amount (the Salvation Army) gives isn’t enough to remedy the situation, we can pass along resources that people can look into to solve the problem,” she said.

Null is hopefully that the changes to this year’s Red Kettle Campaign will generate increased interest and hopefully increased donations to cover the needs of the community.

“I think we all have a renewed sense of purpose this year, because 2020 has been like nothing we’ve ever seen before,” she said.

“As people who care about their community, I think we all realize that we’ve got to take care of each other, and any amount of time a person can spend out there ringing a bell or any amount they can donate won’t go unnoticed,” she said.

Null encourages the public to sign up to be a bell ringer — that smiling presence which draws people in and motivates them to stop and drop some change into the kettles.

“An unmanned kettle is a lonely, wasted kettle. Having folks out there can make all the difference in the world,” she said.

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To register to be a bell ringer, visit registertoring.com.

For more information on how to donate or set up a virtual challenge, visit salarmyhancock.org.

For financial assistance through the Salvation Army, call 317-414-4805 or simply dial 211.