Salvation Army’s Red Kettle campaign now under way

Roger Follebout of Peninsula Regional Medical Center is annually ranked as one of the top bell ringers for the Salvation Army based in Salisbury.

Since 1891, when the first kettle was placed in a public area in San Francisco to collect money for a Christmas dinner for the destitute and homeless of the area, the Salvation Army’s annual Red Kettle Campaign has heralded the start of the holiday season with tinkling bells and merry Christmas  greetings starting on Black Friday.

That model hasn’t changed much despite modern society’s transition to a digital business model and increasingly, shoppers who use credit or debit cards, or other cashless means to purchase gifts and other holiday items.

“A lot of people don’t carry cash now,” said Bob Smith, who handles human resources for the Salvation Army facility on Oak Street in Salisbury. “The Salvation Army has been testing ways to allow us to accept these payment methods, like Square, but the big challenge for us at kettle sites was the lack of internet access. It just wasn’t a viable solution.”

This year, all that has changed. New signs that will be used at kettle sites have the ability to accept Apple Pay or Google Pay via a transponder attached inside the signs, or for older smartphones that are not equipped for the transponders, a QR code to scan. Both methods will bring up a donation screen.

No more excuses. Smith said they hope to boost the amount collected through the kettle campaign

“If you are traveling and happen upon a kettle,” said Smith, “you can donate using Apple Pay or Google Pay and the technology will use your home billing address to route the money to our facility here. All donations that are made locally or through this new payment system stays local.”

Some Food Lion locations and Hobby Lobby in Salisbury have allowed the kettles to begin early this season, but the day after Thanksgiving is still the day when most kettles will be out in force. Black Friday is still the day nationwide when the bells will begin ringing in earnest.

“Walmart this year allowed us to do special events featuring the bells,” said Capt. Cristina Trantham, who with her husband Capt. Matt Trantham helps to oversee the Salvation Army operation that covers Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties on Maryland’s lower Eastern Shore.

The two special events were a back-to-school supply drive in late August and a Christmas toy drive in late October. Both events offered the opportunity for in-kind donations as well as monetary giving.

With Black Friday looming, the Tranthams have a room in the Oak Street facility that is a command center with schedules for each location posted on the walls and stacks of kettles, stands and signs waiting for the big day to arrive. It is a massive operation. The floor is stacked with dozens of kettles, and the iconic tripod stands lean against the wall waiting.

With just under 500 volunteers already scheduled, there are plenty of openings for individuals or groups to come out and help.

“In total it will take about 1,200 individuals or groups to volunteer at those locations right up until Dec. 24,” she said.

The Tranthams are gearing up for their second Christmas in Salisbury.

“I was born in Cambridge,” said Trantham, “but I didn’t grow up there. My parents were also Salvation Army ministers. Because the Salvation Army is structured like a military operation, we got transferred around a lot. This is our fourth command assignment, but the first in on Delmarva.”

Trantham said a small number of paid bell ringers are used to fill in gaps when volunteers are unable to serve. She wishes enough volunteers could be found, but that is not always the case.

“It gets really busy this time of year,” she said.

The need in the community is increasing, and the Salvation Army is hoping to increase the amount of money raised from their direct mail appeal as well as their kettle campaign from the $390,000 raised in 2018 to $405,000 this year. The money raised, which stays on Delmarva, supplements the agency’ social services assistance with rent or heating bills as well as food, holiday gifts and other needs.

“This year we are taking our Thanksgiving meal on the road,” said Trantham, “to where the homeless in our area congregate, using our food truck to serve more of the homeless a hot holiday meal.”

“I love what we get to do, especially at this time of year,” she said.

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