PROVIDENCE — Like many organizations, the Salvation Army has been running in disaster mode since the pandemic arrived in March. And now Maj. Roger Duperree, who heads the agency’s efforts in Rhode Island, says a gloomy possibility looms as Christmas approaches.
A season of silence — the organization’s vital, bell-ringing fundraising efforts thwarted at the doors of retail America.
“It’s a real concern, yes,” Duprerree said. “We are hoping to hear back from many of the stores” that customarily allow the bell ringers and their swaying red donation kettles. But so far, many of those longtime partners like Walmart and area supermarkets and pharmacies haven’t committed to allowing the traditional practice back this holiday season, he said.
Two raised concerns — how to keep the kettles constantly disinfected and whether social distancing infractions could spread the coronavirus.
On the national level, the Salvation Army, one of the country’s largest social-service organizations, announced last week it was starting its annual holiday fundraising campaign early for the first time in 130 years because of anticipated revenue losses from the coronavirus.
Last year, the religious nonprofit agency raised $126 million through donations dropped into its 30,000 red kettles nationwide during the holidays.
This season, it says it could see only half of that revenue “due to the closing or retail stores, consumers carrying less cash and coins and the decline in foot traffic” at retail stores.
Meanwhile, the agency said it could end up serving “up to 155% more people” with food, shelter and other assistance.
“Our ability to raise vital funds to serve those in need this Christmas and beyond is at risk,” said Commissioner Kenneth G. Hodder, national commander of The Salvation Army. “We need everyone who has the capacity to come alongside us and ensure that the holiday season is bright for millions. We’re asking you to help rescue Christmas with us by providing support in any way you can.”
In Rhode Island, the agency has seen the need for its services rise, officials said, including more free, prepackaged meals offered and more people using its food pantries.
At the same time, Maj. Brian Thomas, administrator of the Salvation Army’s shelter and rehabilitation center in Providence, said the agency was forced to close three of its 10 thrift stores to cut costs — one in Pawtucket, one in North Providence and its store on Warwick Avenue in Warwick.
The closings also forced the layoff of about 50 employees — almost a third of its Rhode Island work force.
The money made from thrift store sales directly funds the Salvation Army’s alcohol and drug rehabilitation center.
“It has been,” Duperree said, “a very challenging time.”
On Twitter: @mooneyprojo
TO OUR READERS: This content is being provided for free as a public service during the coronavirus outbreak. Sign up for our daily or breaking newsletters to stay informed. Please support local journalism by
subscribing to The Providence Journal.
On Twitter: @mooneyprojo