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Donations to Salvation Army's red kettles off the pace from last year

New Hampshire Union Leader

December 14. 2013 7:39PM

You can't miss the red kettles and bell ringers outside stores around New Hampshire this time of year.

This is the biggest season for donations for the Salvation Army, but donations are down 15 percent in Manchester from this time last year, and 14 percent across the state, according to Capt. Herb Rader of the Manchester Corps of the Salvation Army.

In 2012, the Salvation Army had collected $105,484 by Dec. 12. A year later, the organization has collected $89,701.

"As the weather changes, I hope people get more into the Christmas spirit, and as they get closer to Christmas people feel a little more like giving," said Rader.

Rader says he set the fundraising goal of $152,000 for the Manchester-Bedford area red kettle drive this year.

That's down from the $167,638 raised last year. "Right now, I'm not sure we'll get there, unless things change soon," said Rader. "We project we'll come in at $137,500."

The fact that Thanksgiving Day fell late in November is playing a part.

"There are some stores, like Walmart, that we can't set up at until after Black Friday," said Rader. "Where that was later this year, we got a later start, and it's showing in the donations."

A lengthy history

The roots of the red kettle drive can be traced back to 1891 and San Francisco, when Salvation Army Capt. Joseph McFee was brainstorming ways to come up with enough funds to provide a free Christmas dinner to the poor. He remembered seeing a large iron kettle in Liverpool, England, during his days as a sailor, called a "Simpson's Pot," into which passersby tossed coins to help those in need. He set up one and soon had the money needed for the dinners.

Popular idea

The idea spread in 1897 to Boston, where enough money was raised to purchase 150,000 Christmas dinners for the needy.

Today, Rader said, there are Salvation Army red kettle drives in all 50 states, and the Salvation Army International organization sets up kettles around the globe, including in Chile, Japan, Korea and across Europe.

Rader said this year the Manchester Corps started with 80 bell ringers available to work 18 red kettles at 16 donation spots in Manchester and Bedford.

"As the holidays get closer, people are less available because their calendars get filled up," said Rader. As of Friday, the number had dropped to 40 kettle crew members.

Many of the bell ringers are volunteers, but some are in need of a little extra income during the holiday season, so the Salvation Army will pay some a minimum wage to man kettles.

"If we can't fill all the slots with volunteers from businesses and groups, we end up putting paid staff at some locations," said Rader. "It helps get people in need some money during the holidays."

Kettle theft

Last year, a thief made off with a red kettle from outside the Hobby Lobby store off South Willow Street. The empty kettle was later found on Gold Street. Manchester police Lt. Maureen Tessier said last week the thief has yet to be caught.

The bell ringer stationed at that kettle when it was stolen did not volunteer to return this year.

Safety concerns

Rader said the Salvation Army takes the safety of its bell ringers seriously. All staff are required to attend a training program called Safe From Harm to ensure safety, though volunteers from businesses or civic groups do not receive the training.

Tessier said that while Manchester police don't take any special measures to specifically watch over bell ringers and their kettles, the holiday shopping safety procedures the department adopts can help.

"The kettles are usually outside the larger retail sites, which we are patrolling," said Tessier.

Outside the Walmart on Keller Street in Manchester Friday, a middle-aged man dropped a folded bill into the kettle as he pushed his cart to the parking lot.

"Thanks for doing this," he said to the bell ringer.

Other shoppers walked by without making a donation.

"My employer has a program where we give at work," said a man who would only give his name as Dan. A woman, who gave her name as Susan, said she had already given to a Christmas charity.

Rader said people who don't give should not feel bad about it.

"The bell ringer won't be upset with you. We explain it to them that people give in many ways," said Rader.

He says there is no need to try to avoid the bell ringer by finding another exit.

"I would love for you to give every time you walk by, absolutely. Do I expect it? No, we don't expect it," Rader said.

"Even a penny in a bucket, we appreciate."

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