The Williamsport Salvation Army Still Ringing Bells Despite Pandemic

Dec 12, 2020 | by Pat Crossley

Christmas shoppers this year will find the season a little quieter as bell ringers will not be as plentiful as in the past as the American Rescue Workers have chosen not to participate in this annual tradition.

“We came to that decision because primarily our bell ringers are our shelter residents,” said Kendra Parke, marketing and community engagement coordinator at ARW.

“Throughout this whole COVID ordeal we’re trying to limit their exposure to the public as much as we possibly can, so we made the decision to pull the guys from going out and bell ringing for us,” she added.

For the Rescue Workers, the decision also brings with it a loss of revenue from the money collected by the bell ringers.

“The bell ringing alone usually brings in about $20,000 to $40,000. That is a large chunk out of our annual budget,” Parke said.

She noted that the organization has received grant monies and private donations throughout the year which offsets the loss somewhat.

“In the end it’s probably not going to equal out to as much as we would have gotten during bell ringing, but with the grant and the private donations, we have, thankfully, been able to get by this year,” she shared.

The Rescue Workers will be distributing food boxes this year to anyone in the community prior to the holiday as well as providing a to-go meal on Christmas Day.

“On Dec. 22, we are doing boxes, first-come, first-served. We are prepared for about 1,000. They will get a turkey and they will get three bags of additional food.

“They will get enough to make a meal then also extra food to help them out that week,” Parke said. “It will equal out to 70 pounds of food that they will be getting.”

She added that they are encouraging people to come by vehicle to get their boxes. The boxes, which are distributed in partnership with the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank and the Lycoming County United Way will be given out at the Social Services’ Center from 1 to 6 p.m.

To-go meals on Christmas Day will be given out at the donations’ dock, marked furniture, from noon to 3 p.m. Anyone in the community is invited to stop by for a meal, Parke said.

The Rescue Workers have also decided not to give out toys this year.

“It was a hard decision to make,” Parke said. “Anyone who is in need of toys, we were referring them to the Salvation Army.

“This year with everything going on, we decided to do what we do best and to do it well. Food is what we normally do well,” she added.

The Salvation Army

The Red Kettle of the Salvation Army will still be manned this year with volunteers filling the air with the sound of bells and wearing masks to observe COVID protocol, according to Major Donald Spencer, Corps officer and pastor at the Salvation Army Williamsport site.

The group is also offering contactless donations with an NFC tag on the Red Kettle stand for use with a cell phone or an iPad.

Spencer admitted that this year, there are fewer people volunteering to ring bells at the Red Kettles.

“There are two issues with bell ringers. One is places to go. We are limited in that the store has to say yes and many of those are corporate entities and it’s out of our control and generally the control of the local people. However we’re still at Walmart, Sam’s Club and the mall and other places as they are available,” he stated.

“The other part of the puzzle are the volunteers who stand and ring. That’s generally the larger struggle of the two. We can always use volunteers on the Red Kettle,” he added.

He cited the fact that many of the volunteer ringers come from clubs at local schools which in many cases are not meeting because of the pandemic.

“That has had an impact. Those kids are always very helpful,” he shared.

He noted that some people are afraid to volunteer as bell ringers because of COVID concerns.

“We understand, but we are following all COVID protocols with our bell ringing volunteers,” Spencer commented.

The Salvation Army, like the Rescue Workers, depends on the income from the kettles as well as from several events which will not be held this year due to the health crisis.

“There are several events this time of year we were unable to hold because of COVID restrictions. They are in-person events,” Spencer noted.

The “Festival of Trees” is still going forward at the Lycoming Mall this year, although COVID has affected the number of entrants, according to Spencer. The 30 trees will be auctioned at 7 p.m., Dec. 11.

“Some commercial concerns don’t have the resources this year because of the restrictions on giving things away, the way they used to,” he said.

Other events impacted by restrictions included a kick-off breakfast which had to be canceled.

“We were on track to probably raise $20,000 to $30,000 this year. We needed to cancel the Community Challenge Cup race which is another $20,000 to $25,000 that we raise. The kettle income will also probably be down significantly this year due to the fact that fewer people are out, it’s harder to get volunteers and those kinds of things,” he explained.

Another factor impacting giving this year is that many people are out of work, he said.

Over the past several weeks, the Salvation Army has been interviewing people for their Christmas distribution, “so we know how many toys to tell Santa we need,” he said.

“As far as the distribution goes and the number of people we’re helping, it’s been impacted in that we’re helping more people this year,” Spencer said.

He attributed part of that to the fact that the Salvation Army is the only major agency in town distributing toys this year.

“I’m fairly certain that we are the sole distributor of what people donate through Toys For Tots and the only agency that is continuing to do our traditional Christmas toys and food for children, families and adults,” he said.

Although the deadline has passed to sign up for the distribution, Spencer said that if people contact the Salvation Army, they will be put on a waiting list.

“After we help those we’ve promised to help, we then go down that waiting list. Generally we’re able to help everyone on that list, except those who come to us on Dec. 23 or 24,” he said.

This year, too, because of the pandemic, there is a greater need in the community.

“I’d like people to know that the Salvation Army, since this thing began, very early in March, we developed a plan. And then when the lockdowns happened, the Salvation Army has been working tirelessly and in-person since this whole thing began,” Spencer said.

“We’ve distributed countless pounds of food and we helped in other ways. We were a major food distribution point for the Salvation Army in Northcentral PA. We’ve also had tens of thousands of meals distributed throughout Williamsport. We have been steadily doing our thing the best we can. We’ve made adjustments as needed, as many have, but we have not stopped,” he continued.

“At Christmas time, I have been in touch with Santa and he tells me 2020 will not win. The Salvation Army is very pleased to be a part of that. We are here. We are doing our thing and we can always use more support, either volunteers for bell ringing or donations of money. The Salvation Army is here and we’re going to do our best to adjust,” he added.

Daniel’s Closet

A source of free clothing for all ages in addition to toys at Christmas time, Daniel’s Closet, located at Redeemer Lutheran Church, at the corner of Washington Boulevard and Sherman Street, has decided to close until further notice.

Speaking for the organizers of the free clothing distribution site, Barbara Horn, one of the co-directors, said that the group had prayerfully considered their decision to cancel the December event and close the closet until further notice.

“This difficult decision was made due to the spike in COVID-19 cases in our area and the overcrowding of all local health facilities,” Horn wrote.

“We genuinely value the health and welfare of our friends, clients and volunteers and don’t feel that we can maintain a safe environment for you at this time,” she added.

Horn urged people to contact Toys for Tots if they are in need of items for Christmas. She added that anyone who had purchased toys to donate to Daniel’s Closet should give them instead to local charities.

Anyone wishing to donate to either the Rescue Workers or The Salvation Army should check their websites for information.


Original Source: Williamsport Sun-Gazette

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