WILKES-BARRE – The Salvation Army's emblematic red kettles will once again take their stations outside businesses around the area, but in many locations the inseparable clanking of bells may be silent this Christmas season.
Lt. Ted Tressler of The Salvation Army's Wilkes-Barre Corps said the charity is facing a severe shortage of volunteer bell ringers for the coming Christmas season. The Corps collects donations at 25 locations in Greater Wilkes-Barre, but to date only 10 to 15 volunteers have signed up to ring bells for the annual giving campaign that begins next week, Tressler said.
The charity expects its ranks will be bolstered by volunteers from company and service groups, but those groups often only provide volunteers for a day or a weekend at a time, and Tressler said the group still needs regulars.
This will significantly impact the amount of income that we receive from the kettle campaign, Tressler said. And that's going to significantly impact the money that we have to provide services.
He added that Salvation Army branches in Hazleton, West Pittston and Scranton are facing similar volunteer recruitment problems.
It's been getting more and more difficult to get volunteers over the years, Tressler said. It used to be far more common for people to just show up and want to help out. I'm not sure if it's just a general change in our culture concerning volunteerism.
I'm not sure what's driving it but I'm hoping that just making our community aware will make big steps toward solving the problem. I don't think it's that our community doesn't care.
The Wilkes-Barre Corps hopes to raise $162,000 from this year's campaign, a nickel, dime and dollar at a time. Money raised benefits the organization's annual children's toy and holiday dinner giveaways, with remaining proceeds benefiting the charity's regular functions throughout the year, including food pantries, clothing vouchers, children's outreach and emergency and disaster service work.
More than 600 families comprised of more than 2,100 individuals and 1,100 children in the Wilkes-Barre Area will benefit from kettle drive proceeds this year, Tressler said.
Tressler said the Salvation Army also will have less time to collect money at some of its most profitable kettle locations this year due to agreements negotiated between the national organization and nationwide retail outlets. The organization will not be allowed to collect money outside Walmart until Black Friday, and won't be able to do so outside Price Chopper and J.C. Penny's branches until Dec. 1.
Fewer stores have agreed to host the groups Angel Trees, Christmas trees decorated with ornaments that customers can buy and donate at the store, as well, Tressler said.
Tressler said he hopes having more volunteers next to bells will at least make up for the lost time.
Ideally, volunteers would work a full day and volunteer on multiple days, but those with less time to spare are welcome as well. Volunteers need not ask customers for money – most people know what they're asking – but merely ring a bell next to a collection kettle.
Tressler described the activity as a meaningful experience.
The first time that I volunteered years ago to ring bells I wasn't convinced that it was going to be fun; standing outside with a kettle bell sort of begging for money in the cold didn't seem very fun, he said. But what I got was a sense of accomplishment, of doing something meaningful. There's a real sense of personal fulfillment and the reality of having done something really meaningful.