COVID-19 forces Salvation Army to shift approach in holiday collections

It's a telltale sign of the holidays. The iconic bell and red bucket are being set up outside of storefronts in metro Atlanta early for the first time in more than a century.

The altered timeline is an act of desperation to salvage the Salvation Army's red kettle campaign amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Last year, the Salvation Army Metro Atlanta raised $1.2 million through the red kettle campaign,” said Major Angela Repass with the Salvation Army. “This year we're expecting possibly a 50 percent decrease - that's a $600,000 decrease.”

Consumers are carrying less cash and coins and resorting to more online shopping to avoid potentially infectious crowds, which means lighter buckets for the bell ringers.

It’s inopportune timing because the need is greater than ever before.

The Salvation Army served nearly 40,000 people in the metro area during all of 2019, according to officials. They’re estimating 80,000 people will seek aid just in the 2020 holiday season.

“The unemployment numbers are really high,” said Repass. “People are just really struggling, so they're turning to the Salvation Army for food, they're turning to Salvation Army to help keep their lights on, to pay their rent, [and] they're turning to Salvation Army to offer them a little bit of hope this Christmas.”

Repass said the donations over the holidays typically help sustain aid throughout the entire year.

To help make up for the anticipated decrease in donations, the Salvation Army is introducing new measures.

No cash? No problem. They’re encouraging online donations and rounding up your purchases at Walmart locations to contribute to the nonprofit's “Help Rescue Christmas” effort.

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And of course, there's still the opportunity to donate on-site, where you'll find bell ringers sporting a different look this holiday season, decked out in PPE, though carrying the same charisma.

Longtime bell ringer Elonzo’s contagious cheer caught the eye of generous passersby like Lynn Smith.

“I've been blessed by God tremendously, so I just want to share the blessing,” said Smith.