Norristown in Dire Need for Virtual Donations

Dec 17, 2020 | by Gary Puleo

NORRISTOWN — The iconic Salvation Army Red Kettle was not stationed at any of the usual places on Wednesday, as the much-heralded snowstorm began pounding the area.

Still, the organization's Major David Irwin of the Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware Division was busy reaching out to supporters to let them know that they could still donate from the comfort of their own homes via the online Red Kettle.

Like many things during the pandemic, the familiar symbol of goodwill and generosity has gone virtual.

“The storm is a big impact on us today and Thursday. We basically had to shut down our kettle operations today,” said Irwin, who runs the Norristown branch. “I know that locally at our Salvation Army in Norristown we’ll probably lose $5,000 or $6,000. And that’s just the snowstorm.”

Overall, kettle donations have declined more than 50 percent over last year, from the effect of the pandemic and the restrictions in place.  

“Normally I run 13 to 15 kettles every day in a normal season, and this year I’m running four to six kettles a day. So we’re really hoping the online kettles take off this year and provide some relief to the loss that were going to see at the manual kettles,” said Irwin, who pointed out that the Christmas season is still a good reminder that many folks in the Philadelphia region are lacking the basic necessities of food and shelter.

Fundraising numbers have dropped significantly for the Christian-based charitable organization this year, Irwin noted.

“The Salvation Army as a whole in our division stands to lose a significant amount of fundraising dollars. In our mall areas there’s definitely not the traffic we’re used to seeing out there. Fundraising itself is really hard. This weekend, in our division there’s a good chance we’ll lose over $250,000 in those two days,” he said.

The organization has been preparing for an even bigger drop for some time.

“When this all started back in March we started thinking about this month right away as we were attacking and helping the immediate needs in March, April and May we were also having planning meetings thinking about the future,” Irwin recalled. “We knew if this pandemic stayed the way we were going how was our fundraising going to look when we’re able to be out there doing it, will there actually be shoppers? I think we’re starting to see the worse of our fears becoming apparent. We’re just very fortunate that we have a lot of donors that are going out of their way to reach out to us to see what our financial needs are and helping us out that way. We planned well and have really been pushing our virtual giving and stressing the online kettle and the virtual donation effort.”

The online aspect has been largely successful, Irwin added.

“The response has been very good. We’re in a virtual world and now more than ever it’s very productive to have a good virtual campaign out there and I think as we can continue to trust the virtual online mechanisms that are out there we see that the virtual kettles seem to be doing better every year," he said. "In Norristown, we’re behind a little more than half of what we were able to do last year. Our kettles are a significant part of our funding that helps us go into the new year. It’s a big part of our budget, so when we can’t raise money with the kettles it really hinders what we offer Jan 1 through the rest of the year.”

Keeping pace with the times made sense during a pandemic, Irwin allowed.

  “We recognize that there’s more online shopping going on than normal. And I’ve noticed that at King of Prussia Mall and Montgomery Mall the foot traffic is not nearly what you’d normally see on busy days. Even at Walmart on Trooper Road, I was there last Friday and was astonished at the lack of traffic. And that parking lot is almost always filled to the brim. We do still see traffic at the grocery stores but it’s a different world out there now.”

He’s noticed that individual donations themselves might be somewhat more generous than usual, Irwin said.

“Where someone might normally put a dollar in the kettle, this year they’re putting $5 in because they know they’re not going to pass five or six of them. They might be going to the store one time instead of maybe five or six times.”

The coronavirus has meant that there are fewer volunteers to ring the bells as well.

“Some of the issues are that we can’t transport people right now,” Irwin said. “Because of the COVID restrictions, people that are volunteering or working for me have to have their own transportation, to keep the bell ringers safe and to keep the drivers safe, so that created a smaller work force. We want to make sure that we’re following the CDC guidelines. And some locations are so slow it doesn’t make sense to have somebody out there. There really are a lot of decisions going on to utilize the workers that we do have and help create a sense that we’re maximizing our efforts to the best of our ability. It’s a combination of people being out of work due to the pandemic or their circumstances are different, or they have people at home that they can’t risk making ill so they can’t have extra contact out there. So we’re seeing a lot less volunteerism that way. Our goal is to conserve everybody as best we can and keep everyone safe as best we can.”

The social services the organization is known for have continued despite the pandemic.

“We’re still doing our food pantry. Since March our food pantry has really ramped up its services. We were probably helping ten times as many people as we normally would in a week’s time. We did a lot of deliveries of food, which we don’t normally do. Specifically, we took care of a few senior high rises for about eight weeks straight to cater to the pandemic in the beginning with fresh and frozen foods. And we do a really big Christmas effort with toys for the kids in the community who are needy. We’re still doing that this year,” Irwin added, “although we had to change it up a little bit. Typically we do a toy shop where the parents will come in and shop, but we couldn’t have that because of social distancing. So we actually packed toys for all the kids and we’ll be doing a no-contact drive-thru distribution this weekend, to keep everybody safe and still serve everyone in the community.”

To donate to the Norristown Salvation Army branch, visit

Original Source: Montgomerynews

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