How the Salvation Army and other charities are dealing with unprecedented need this holiday season

STEPHANIE PAWLOWSKI
·3 min read

Nonprofits that typically benefit from a year-end push are facing a challenge this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. More Americans are in need of assistance, but traditional means of collecting donations are being interrupted.

Commissioner Kenneth Hodder, national commander of the Salvation Army, said the organization is running its annual Red Kettle Campaign at all the retail locations available to them this year. But Hodder said with the decline in the number of retail spots, a national coin shortage and less foot traffic, fundraising is at risk.

"In a normal year, our Christmas kettle campaign would raise about $126 million. Our current projection is that we will see a 50% decline in that figure. So we're trying to find ways by which we can find the missing $60 million," Hodder told ABC's "Perspective" podcast.

The Salvation Army isn't alone. Kelley Hardison, deputy vice president of the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, said not as many retailers want to host the organization's classic white collection boxes.

"We're used to our local collection boxes overflowing and right now, they have a very sparse collection of toys in them," Hardison said.

PHOTO: Staff Sgt. Brian Spittler loads a vehicle with toy donations at the Marine Corps Toys for Tots depot, Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018, in Hialeah, Fla. (Lynne Sladky/AP, File)
PHOTO: Staff Sgt. Brian Spittler loads a vehicle with toy donations at the Marine Corps Toys for Tots depot, Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018, in Hialeah, Fla. (Lynne Sladky/AP, File)

To complicate matters, Hodder said more people are looking for help with things like rent, food and utilities.

"We currently project that there will be 155% more people coming to the Salvation Army for Christmas assistance this year," Hodder said.

Hardison said Toys for Tots typically distributes 18 million to 19 million toys to 7 million children in the U.S. each year.

MORE: The Salvation Army goes digital for holiday donations

"In our country, we have about 15.5 million children living in poverty, so we barely meet half the need out there," Hardison said.

For the first time, the Salvation Army is running an online fundraising campaign at RescueChristmas.org, where donors can make a contribution in their zip code, while residents can sign up for assistance.

"RescueChristmas.org is the heart and soul of what we're trying to do this year," Hodder said.

PHOTO: Salvation Army Capt. Erin Smullen hands out a free Thanksgiving meal in downtown Johnstown, Pa., Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. (Thomas Slusser/The Tribune-Democrat via AP)
PHOTO: Salvation Army Capt. Erin Smullen hands out a free Thanksgiving meal in downtown Johnstown, Pa., Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. (Thomas Slusser/The Tribune-Democrat via AP)

Toys for Tots is also pushing for donations online, at ToysForTots.org, as well as partnering with corporations that are running employee drives.

"What we are doing right now is encouraging people to donate online and it gives the foundation the opportunity to augment or supplement local campaigns and build the needs where they can," Hardison said.

Toys for Tots can't hold large distribution parties, so Hardison said the organization is turning to curbside distribution at partner locations.

MORE: Thieves steal thousands of dollars in toys meant for kids in need at Christmas

Curbside collection is also the model that food banks across America have been following for months during the pandemic.

Feeding America Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Katie Fitzgerald estimated 50 million Americans are considered food insecure just this year, a 60% increase over previous years. And food banks are entering the worst months in terms of food insecurity.

"People make economic tradeoffs," Fitzgerald said. "They're going to have to pay to heat their homes or medications. They're going to skimp on their food budget before they cut those kinds of things because that's what they need to survive."

PHOTO: A Corner Market grocery store customer places money in the iconic Salvation Army donations collections bucket in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020. (Rogelio V. Solis/AP)
PHOTO: A Corner Market grocery store customer places money in the iconic Salvation Army donations collections bucket in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020. (Rogelio V. Solis/AP)

Fitzgerald stressed that those who find themselves in need to assistance should not feel embarrassed, because life happens, especially in 2020.

"Unfortunately, bad things happen that disrupt our ability to pay our bills and feed our families, like a health crisis or lost job," Fitzgerald said. "And it's not a reflection on your worthiness as a human being. This is why we're here. So, let us help you feed your family so that you can get through this period of time. That's why we're here."

Fitzgerald said Feeding America's network of 200 food banks has risen to the occasion so far, but asks anyone in a position to donate to go to FeedingAmerica.org.

Listen to the full report and the rest of this past week's highlights from Perspective.

How the Salvation Army and other charities are dealing with unprecedented need this holiday season originally appeared on abcnews.go.com