BY SCOTT AUST
With a bit less than two weeks left, the Salvation Army's Red Kettle fundraising campaign has raised $26,721, well below its goal of $75,000, though officials are optimistic the community will help them get close before the campaign ends on Christmas Eve.
Robert DeLeon, community center director, said the campaign is roughly $6,600 behind compared to the same point a year ago. However, he points out that this year's campaign is operating on 11 fewer days than last year because the organization didn't start until after Thanksgiving.
While the initial goal was $75,000, DeLeon said a more realistic goal is probably around $60,000. Still, he is not conceding the lower number.
"We had set that goal when we were going to start on Nov. 11," DeLeon said. "So $60,000 is our goal, and I think we're going to get close to that with the help of the community. Now, if they want to help me get close to that $75,000, I'd be happy to take that. Those 11 days made a huge impact in our efforts."
Craig Lurtz, Salvation Army envoy, said daily fundraising totals show most days this year are ahead of the same days last year, but overall the campaign is in the hole. But being out there fewer days hasn't been all negative, he said.
"I think we're fresher in the minds of people because we haven't been out there two weeks before Thanksgiving. Usually by the time we get to Thanksgiving, people are wondering when we're going to go away. Now we're still fresh in their mind," Lurtz said.
Volunteers will be manning the kettles and ringing bells until 6 p.m. Dec. 24. DeLeon praised volunteers who have been out between 10 a.m. and 9 p.m. during the campaign at Walmart, Sam's Club, Dillons East and West, J.C. Penney, Sears and Walgreens.
"I have great volunteers who are out there just making an effort to raise money to support this community. I will take volunteers every day until the end of the year. It would be real helpful if I had some daytime volunteers. If they could take a two-hour shift, it would be wonderful," he said.
Another part of the fundraising campaign this year are the "2012 Season Passes" buttons, which allow people to make a donation and wear the button when going in and out of stores to show off that they have already donated. DeLeon said he still has buttons available for sale in denominations of $20, $50 and $100.
"It's a great opportunity for them to show support for the Salvation Army, but the buttons are pretty cool. I love the way they look. They're a great keepsake to remind yourself every year what you're able to do to help people," he said.
All funds raised during the campaign help support Salvation Army services in the community throughout the year, including things like the food pantry and emergency housing, clothing and utility help.
"We get to see the true need every day, and it's there," DeLeon said. "People need help with their food, with their rent, utilities. The need is there. That's why I'm out there. I don't put bell ringers out there because it's a cute thing to do. There's a need, and I need to help."
Lurtz said the food pantry has been hit hard this year. In the last two months, Lurtz estimated, the food pantry use has increased roughly 300 percent, from around 30 or 40 food orders per month to 140 food orders just last month.
Lurtz believes the increased need could be because the economy is still soft, and some people's unemployment benefits may be running out.
The food pantry accepts non-perishable items like canned food, peanut butter, jelly and spaghetti sauce.
"Spaghetti sauce is like gold right now. We have quite a bit of pasta but very little sauce," Lurtz said. "Any kind of meat products, like frozen hamburger, would be awesome. Small portions of chicken. Anybody that has had a deer processed, we'd take that, too."
To volunteer as a bell ringer or to make a donation, call the Salvation Army at 276-4027.