by Camerin Mattson
Working people and tourists in downtown Chicago were likely checking their calendars on September 14 when they came upon an unexpected sight: red kettles and bellringers. As part of The Salvation Army’s early launch of the national Christmas campaign, Rescue Christmas, the Metropolitan Division posted 75 red kettles along Michigan Avenue for a one-day event to ring out the news the fundraising season had begun.
For the first time The Salvation Army launched the Christmas campaign two months early, a change motivated by the ongoing financial hardship brought on by COVID-19. In the Metropolitan Division, some corps have seen up to a 500 percent increase in requests for help; in Chicago it was recently announced that nearly 20 percent of residents now live at or below the federal poverty line. Unfortunately, the elevated need comes at a time when the Army expects to have fewer red kettles out, as well as less foot traffic than in the past, due to the pandemic. It’s hoped the extended fundraising season will help offset these challenges.
“Our hopes are to build awareness in the community about so many families who will not be able to have a Christmas celebration,” said Major Victor Stasiuc, Des Plaines, Ill., corps officer, who rang bells on Michigan Avenue. His wife, Major Christina, added that a passerby told them, “If it snows tomorrow, I blame The Salvation Army.” They all laughed.
Though the red kettles didn’t hit the streets fulltime until November 9, officers, soldiers and staff were pleased to raise funds during the launch but even more grateful for the local media which covered the event, encouraging viewers and readers to donate online.
Two days later a spotlight shone into the night sky from each of the division’s 28 corps, announcing the early launch of the Christmas campaign and signifying the hope that shines from each of these locations.
At the Elgin, Ill., Corps, the spotlight was accompanied by a 10-piece brass ensemble playing Christmas carols, a red carpet, a giant inflatable red kettle and a canteen from which staff passed out boxed meals of hotdogs, chips and cookies. “Elgin has been hit hard by COVID-19. Parents are making difficult choices between paying bills and buying Christmas presents for their children,” Captain Rich Forney said. “Now more than ever, we need partners to join with us in taking care of the least of these in our community.”
The spotlight at the Aurora, Ill., Corps helped acquaint the community with their new location and brought curious neighbors to their parking lot, including one woman who wants to volunteer and another seeking Christmas assistance.
At the Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., Corps, staff and volunteers met those seeking the source of the spotlight with Christmas candy and a red kettle. “One couple drove from Lombard, saw the red kettle, realized they didn’t have money on them, drove back home to get cash, then came back to make a donation,” said Cathleen Himes, Oakbrook Terrace resource development director.
“Even in the darkest times The Salvation Army continues to be a shining light,” said Major Caleb Senn, Oakbrook Terrace corps officer. “This event helped to remind our community that our light still shines as we work together to rescue Christmas.”
Ask your corps officer how you can help rescue Christmas this year.