BAXTER — It’s that time of year when shoppers hear the familiar tinkling of bells as they draw near the entrance of stores.

That can only mean one thing — the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign.

The Brainerd Lakes Salvation Army kicked off its 2020 kettle fundraising efforts with sunny skies and warm weather Thursday, Nov. 19, in front of Cub Foods in Baxter. In a year riddled with unforeseen financial challenges for many, the Salvation Army needs donations more than ever. With a little creativity, no one in need has been turned away from the organization yet, and Capt. Jeff Curran certainly doesn’t want to start now.

“This isn’t a good time of this year for people to hear the words, ‘Sorry, we can’t help,’” said Curran, who serves as commanding officer of the Brainerd Lakes Salvation Army along with his wife Joyce.

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Last year’s campaign brought in $166,000, exceeding the $155,000 goal. That goal remains the same this year, as it’s the sum needed to supplement the organization’s operating budget, but charitable needs in the community are up about 200% compared to a normal year, Curran said. That’s why this year’s theme for the lakes area campaign is “Rescue Christmas.”

“Typically with this Red Kettle Campaign, people think about the foodbank, and then I know the Salvation helps people with their electric bills sometimes and that type of thing,” campaign co-chair Brian Lehman said. “But the Rescue Christmas thing is actually themed in with helping people pay their monthly rent and other things like that. And that’s a little bit of a different focus than a normal year would be just because of the pandemic.”

Judy Jenkins puts money in the Salvation Army red kettle as bell ringer Ric McClary of The Pulse 104.3 watches, Thursday, Nov. 19, at Cub Foods in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Judy Jenkins puts money in the Salvation Army red kettle as bell ringer Ric McClary of The Pulse 104.3 watches, Thursday, Nov. 19, at Cub Foods in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

The money collected in the red kettles isn’t just used during the holiday season, though. It helps people in the community with various needs all year long.

“And we don’t see those (needs) decreasing anytime soon because everything we’ve heard is that this pandemic is going to continue for the next several months, and it’s starting to really affect people financially, so we want to keep them going,” Curran said. “Let’s all get through the end of it in good standing.”

Another Red Kettle Campaign goal is 1,500 volunteer hours, and about 400-500 are accounted for so far. With the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s bell ringers are required to watch a video outlining safety guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Brainerd Lakes Salvation Army is also following guidance from the local Lake Country Cares Campaign, designed to help the community stay safe and help businesses stay open. New measures this year include masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and of course social distancing. Volunteers are encouraged to bring their own bells, and disposable aprons with the Salvation Army logo will be available, while the regular red ones will be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected between uses.

“We want to be able to continue to do this but keep the community safe at the same time,” Curran said.

Those interested in ringing bells can sign up for any location nationwide at registertoring.com. Those without access to a computer can call 218-829-1120. Red Kettles are now up and running at Cub Foods in both Brainerd and Baxter, SuperOne Foods, Fleet Farm, Gander Outdoors, Walmart, Schaefer’s in Nisswa and SuperValu in Pequot Lakes. Walgreens will have a kettle beginning the day after Thanksgiving, and bell ringers will take to the Westgate Mall Dec. 1.

Dec. 17 is Day of Caring, meaning Cub Foods and other community donors have agreed to match a portion of the funds collected that day.

Without enough volunteers, some kettles stand unattended, and some stands sit empty altogether. Those that are staffed typically bring in about $100 an hour, while those that are unstaffed are lucky to earn $5 an hour.

Jim Larson drops money into the Salvation Army red Kettle Thursday, Nov. 19, at Cub Foods in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Jim Larson drops money into the Salvation Army red Kettle Thursday, Nov. 19, at Cub Foods in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

“If you do see a kettle stand somewhere, but you don’t see a kettle or a ringer there, it doesn’t mean we don’t need the donations,” Curran said. “It just means we don’t have enough ringers to cover it.”

Kettles without ringers this year, though, will have signs with QR codes on them, so those walking by can snap a picture with their phone and donate electronically. All kettles also give passersby the option of donating digitally with Apple Pay or Google Pay.

But a friendly face can still go a long way to bring in donations.

“Because it’s such a small community, usually there’s someone that comes through one of the grocery stores or whatever that knows you,” Lehman said. “And this is a very giving community, too, and because of that, people give. And this year there’s definitely a greater need.”

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.