- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 14, 1999

The robust economy is taking its toll on the Salvation Army’s holiday bell ringers who symbolize holiday charity for many Americans with their century-old red-kettle fund-raising campaign.
Shortages of kettle workers, both paid and volunteer, are being reported at all of the organization’s regional offices around the country this Christmas season.
“There’s always a challenge in recruiting quality people to help us in the holidays, but this year seems to be probably more challenged than in previous years because of the strong economy,” said Capt. Robert L. Rudd, community relations and development secretary for the group’s Western territory, based in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.
His colleague, Maj. Thomas Bowers, community relations and development secretary for the army’s Midwest territory, reports the situation in his area is much the same.
“There are not that many people out there looking for work,” said Mr. Bowers, whose office is located in Des Plaines, Ill.
While the Salvation Army prefers to use volunteers, they often are forced to pay people to man the kettles. This year, the modest wages they offer have not been enticing.
“You can’t even hardly get anyone at minimum wage,” Mr. Bowers said.
In Atlanta, Capt. David Birmingham, community relations and development secretary for the group’s Southern territory, said he’s having trouble finding enough people to man all of the shifts, particularly weekdays. “It’s not critical,” he said of the shortages, “but it certainly is a concern that we have.”
Maj. Carl Schoch, community relations and development secretary for the Northeast region, says the robust economy has created problems in his bell-ringing recruiting this year, but says climate is also a factor.
His office is located in West Nyack, N.Y.
“Particularly in the snow belt, it’s always difficult to recruit people for long hours at the kettle when the weather is inclement,” said Mr. Schoch. “This year, given the prosperity across the nation, there is simply a limited number of people prepared to do that kind of thing.”
Teresa Whitfield, national media director at the Salvation Army’s U.S. headquarters in Alexandria, said she could not yet confirm a bell-ringer shortage. “At this point we have not heard enough people around the country tell us it is a problem to tell if it is a national trend.”
The Washington area has plenty of people to man its outposts, she said. Kettles in some states like Florida and Kansas are manned solely by volunteers, many of whom come from local civic groups whose volunteerism is welcomed. “We put out 20,000 kettles,” starting the day after Thanksgiving and ending Christmas eve, she said. “We try to cover every zip code.”
Workers man their stands, ringing bells in front of mall entrances and shopping centers from Monday through Saturday. Sundays are a day of rest.
Often, those who are employed as bell ringers are the same folks who are recipients of the charity they collect.
“This affords them an opportunity to earn a few dollars and have a sense of pride that they are giving something back,” Mr. Schoch said.
Americans have been generous with their spare nickels, dimes and dollars.
Last year, the kettle campaign brought in more than $79 million nationwide.
While the Salvation Army is national, as is its famous kettle campaign, each chapter operates independently. All the money raised in an area stays in that area, Mr. Bowers said, and is used to meet local needs not only at Christmas but throughout the year.

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