The Salvation Army is starting its annual holiday fundraising campaign earlier than ever in an attempt to “rescue Christmas.”
Facing an increased demand amid the coronavirus pandemic with high unemployment, the nation’s largest social services organization said it will start collecting donations in its iconic red kettles with bell-ringing volunteers Monday instead of waiting until closer to Thanksgiving as in past years.
Yet with a surge of store closings, a decline in foot traffic to retail locations, consumers carrying less cash and a nationwide coin shortage, the Salvation Army said it expects to see up to a 50% decrease in fundraising.
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“Our ability to raise vital funds to serve those in need this Christmas and beyond is at risk,” said Commissioner Kenneth Hodder, the faith-based charity’s national commander, in a news release. “We need everyone who has the capacity to come alongside us and ensure that the holiday season is bright for millions in need.”
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Amid COVID-19, the organization said requests for help are at all-time high and it estimates it could serve up to 155% more people this year with Christmas assistance from putting food on the table, paying bills, providing shelter and helping place gifts under the tree – if resources are available.
Since March, the Salvation Army says it has provided more than 100 million meals and 1.5 million nights of shelter.
Last year, $126 million was raised through about 30,000 red kettles. In a statement to USA TODAY, Salvation Army said it is working with “corporate and community partners to determine how many red kettles will be safely placed, but we expect it will be less than our typical number.”
Bell ringers will be provided masks and instructed to follow all local and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention safety protocols, officials told USA TODAY, adding they also will be trained to maintain social distancing and to clean kettles each day.
Getting donations in cashless society
Instead of searching for change or dollar bills in pockets or wallets, the Salvation Army says consumers can contribute by pulling out their cell phones.
Last holiday season, the Salvation Army put a modern spin on fundraising when it launched “Kettle Pay” and allowed consumers to donate digitally with Apple Pay or Google Pay at any red kettle across the country.
With Kettle Pay, donors scan a QR code for Apple Pay or hover over a Google Pay symbol to donate electronically.
“As America moves towards a cashless society, The Salvation Army has been adapting to make it simpler and safer for donors to give,” Hodder said in a statement to USA TODAY, noting 63% of consumers are carrying less cash and coins.
Donations can be sent by texting KETTLES to 91999 and by saying to Amazon Alexa, “Alexa, donate to The Salvation Army,” then specifying the amount. Donations also will be accepted at RescueChristmas.org.
Many businesses and experts have been encouraging consumers to use contactless payment systems because of concerns about the spread of the viral infection via cash and credit cards.
Reports of the coin shortage, which U.S. Mint officials call a “disruption of the supply channels of circulating coinage,” started in mid-June.
Fewer open stores this holiday season
As many as 25,000 stores could shutter in 2020 due to COVID-19 impact, according to a report from Coresight Research.
Since May, department store chains and apparel retailers have announced thousands of store closures with a record number of bankruptcies. Although stores have been grappling with declining foot traffic for years, officials have said the impact of the pandemic have accelerated the closings and bankruptcy filings.
Among those that have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection are: Ascena Retail Group, parent company of Justice, Ann Taylor and Lane Bryant, J.C. Penney, Sur La Table, Neiman Marcus, Tuesday Morning, Lord + Taylor and J. Crew.
Other retailers, who haven’t filed for bankruptcy, also plan to shutter locations, including Victoria’s Secret, Nordstrom and Signet Jewelers, parent company of Kay, Zales and Jared.
Holiday shopping starting earlier
While Salvation Army is kicking off its campaign early, retailers are planning to start the holiday shopping earlier than past years too.
Walmart, Target and Best Buy have said they will start offering deals for the holiday season early to reduce crowds and spread out demand.
Last week, Home Depot announced its Black Friday sale will stretch nearly two months instead of a single day with deals available in stores and online.
Michael Brown, a partner in the consumer practice at Kearney, a global strategy and management consultant firm, recently told USA TODAY that holiday sales will need to start “as early as October for retailers to have enough selling days in restricted occupancy stores.”
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Follow USA TODAY reporter Kelly Tyko on Twitter: @KellyTyko