Volunteers might have been in short supply, but it appears generosity wasn’t this Christmas season.
The Brainerd Lakes Salvation Army surpassed its Red Kettle Campaign goal of $155,000 by more than $18,000 despite 600 fewer hours of ringing and half the number of volunteers in 2020 compared to the previous year, according to Capt. Jeff Curran.
“As most of you know, we were short on ringers this year,” he wrote in an email Thursday, Dec. 31, announcing the results. “As a result, ending short of our goal would certainly be expected. Fortunately, that didn’t happen.”
The Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign is its largest fundraiser. The iconic wintertime effort netted $173,250 for the Brainerd Lakes Salvation Army in 2020.
“We just praise God,” Curran said during a phone interview Thursday afternoon. “We give him all the glory for that.”
The goal was also $155,000 in 2019, and thousands of hours by local volunteers manned red kettles at 13 locations in Brainerd, Baxter, Nisswa and Pequot Lakes. But the coronavirus pandemic changed all that in 2020.
“There were a lot of groups that weren’t meeting to plan their schedule for bell-ringing. … But a lot of them also just said simply they weren’t willing this year to take the risk, and stand out there and do that, which we perfectly understand,” Curran said of some church and civic groups.
The Brainerd Lakes Salvation Army uses Christmastime donations to fund year-round programs that provide food, clothing, housing assistance and other critical services for residents in need.
“Most of them were still helping in other ways,” he said of those who chose not to volunteer to ring the red kettle bells. “A lot of them were sending checks and things, and so we were just expecting — just because of the COVID-19 — that we would have a shortage of ringers.”
There were about 2,900 hours of bell-ringing volunteers could have signed up for in 2020 to raise money for the Brainerd Lakes Salvation Army, according to Curran, but about only a hundred volunteered for the campaign, so to surpass the fundraising goal was a surprise.
“First and foremost, we thank God for this incredible outpouring of generosity, but we also thank the community, both those who were able to man a kettle this season and those who contributed to those kettles,” he wrote in the email.
A Red Kettle Campaign typically runs from shortly after Thanksgiving Day to Christmas Eve.
“We had no substantial plan on how we were going to meet our need with the number of bell ringers that we had, and he just came through,” he said, referring to God during the phone interview. “And I believe that just the generosity of this community is just astounding.”
For the second year in a row, the Brainerd Lakes Salvation Army included a QR code on its red kettles. With social distancing and contactless delivery emphasized to slow the transmission of the coronavirus, the contactless QR code was popular with some smartphone users. QR codes are square-shaped, black-and-white pixel patterns of digitized information.
“If somebody doesn’t happen to have any change on them as they’re walking by the kettle, they can just scan that QR code with their phone, and they can just make a donation online through that,” Curran said.
According to the Salvation Army’s website, the organization could see up to a 50% decrease in red kettle funds in 2020 due to several factors, including consumers carrying less cash and fewer coins; more online shopping, which means less foot traffic in shopping areas; unemployment rates; and recent closures of some brick-and-mortar retail stores.
“The Salvation Army would like to thank the Brainerd lakes community for their support. I think that’s very important because it was a community-wide effort,” Curran said by phone.