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Lighter kettles, greater needs

The Salvation Army's south county branch fears a donations disaster.

By CURTIS KRUEGER, Times Staff Writer
Published December 16, 2007


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ST. PETERSBURG - After more than 30 years in the Salvation Army, Maj. Allen Satterlee says, "I've never seen anything like it." He's talking about empty kettles, empty bellies and maybe empty Christmas stockings.

As of last week, the south Pinellas branch of the Salvation Army had collected about $97,000 in its familiar red kettles, compared to roughly $170,000 at the same time last year.

Mail donations also are down. At the same time, more needy families have come to the Salvation Army seeking holiday help.

"If it keeps going like it is, it's going to be a disaster, " Satterlee said.

It's possible the Salvation Army could wind up the year $200,000 short of the $700,000 it raised last year, he said. The money is used to buy toys for the holidays for needy children, groceries so families can enjoy a holiday meal, gifts for nursing home residents and other needs.

Satterlee acknowledged that some recent "personnel issues" could explain some of the shortfall.

He had difficulty getting a person in place to manage the kettle donations. For that reason, kettles and volunteers went out five days later than normal, but still in time for the busy Thanksgiving weekend.

The kettles raised about $30,000 during those five days last year. But when Satterlee said the kettles generated $73,000 less this year, he wasn't even factoring in the missing five days.

Also, the Salvation Army decided to reduce its number of kettles this year from 50 to 40, eliminating kettles that generated the fewest donations. Satterlee said that was partly because it has been hard to find volunteer bell ringers for all locations.

But the drop in donations far outstrips what those kettle locations brought in last year, Satterlee said.

"There's not one day in the kettles so far that we equaled last year. It's down every single day."

Other issues affecting the Salvation Army include a significant increase in the number of families that need toys and food for the holidays, and the logistical challenge of culling toys that have recently been recalled.

Other Salvation Army branches in the Tampa Bay area have not suffered the same drop in donations.

In the northern Pinellas area, Col. Tom Jones said last week that kettle donations were about $4,000 less than the roughly $114,000 that had been collected at the same time last year. Mail-in-donations were slightly up, so "we're about even right now" in terms of money coming in.

Satterlee is hoping St. Petersburg area residents will do what they have always done before - open their wallets to help people in this community who want to give their children a nice meal and a pleasant mix of toys.

"The next couple of weeks are critical for us," he said.

He said he's concerned not just about Christmas. Surplus donations from this season can be used to help families that are struggling after the first of the year.

"We can't help people with their bills if we don't have the cash in our accounts."

Fast facts

By the numbers

$200,000 money the Salvation Army says it could be short, compared to the $700,000 it raised last year

500 number of children left unadopted from the Salvation Army's Angel Tree program

How to help

Salvation Army bell ringers are available at several local stores throughout the holidays. For more information call (727) 550-8080 or go to www.uss.salvationarmy.org/uss/www_uss_stpetersburgac.nsf

[Last modified December 15, 2007, 22:01:42]


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