It’s Christmas in July for the Salvation Army

In Nashville, it was a full month. In Philadelphia, it was every Wednesday in July. In New York, it was a full week. In each case, The Salvation Army’s Christmas in July campaign had one goal: to raise more money for a continuing increase in requests for essential services.

The Christmas in July campaigns are a decision that local units made to meet increased needs in their areas, according to Jaime Joswick, public relations specialist at The Salvation Army National Headquarters in Alexandria, Va. As many as two dozen chapters around the country initiated a program.

Maj. Evan Hickman of The Salvation Army of Greater New York said all 39 locations participated in the Christmas in July bell ringing (July 13 to 18), with more than 200 red kettles aiming to raise $1 million. During the six weeks before Christmas, the typical red kettle campaign draws $2.2 million from kettles alone, and $5 million to $7 million in all, including direct mail appeals, Hickman said. Final totals were not available at presstime.

Though fundraising is about even compared to last year, Hickman said requests for The Salvation Army’s services are up more than 40 percent since this past September, adding that almost 300,000 New Yorkers have lost their jobs since the recession hit.

There has been precedent for seeing the iconic red kettles during other parts of the year. Hickman said communities put out kettles around the country after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and the Greater New York Chapter also did so during the mid-1980s.

For The Salvation Army of Greater Philadelphia, it’s the first time in its 130 years that it has launched a red kettle campaign outside of the holiday season.

The agency needs $450,000 to reopen three emergency assistance sites, while the remaining site has funding until October. Though there is no specific fundraising goal for the campaign, Randall Thomas, director of communications, said they hope to bridge a gap between a 30-percent increase in demand for services and an $850,000 shortfall in funding.

During a typical holiday season, there are more than 70 kettles in the Greater Philadelphia area for six weeks, raising $3 million. Last month, the chapter had bell-ringers out each Wednesday at 10 high-traffic locations within Center City. Brass ensembles have serenaded some locations with Christmas carols to catch people’s attention and local television news personalities have volunteered to ring bells, Thomas said.

Greater Philadelphia registered a Twitter account in March in preparation for the campaign, and has promoted it through its Facebook fan page and Web site.

There was concern regarding the red kettle overdose outside of the holidays, Thomas said, which is “why we’re doing it in moderation.”

The Salvation Army Nashville Area Command decided to use countertop red kettles at retail outlets throughout the month to avoid taking away from its traditional bell-ringer campaigns. It also had an on-air partnership one day in July with a local radio station.

Like Greater Philadelphia, the Nashville Salvation Army hasn’t set a specific fundraising goal, but hopes to raise awareness along with whatever dollars it can. Nashville also will present awards to the businesses that collect the most change during the July campaign, and is encouraging merchants to keep the kettles out beyond July, if they choose.

“The counter-top kettle program exists on its own, and Christmas in July was a campaign to place more kettles during a shortened time period should a business not want to participate in the counter-kettle program year-round,” said Jen Eldridge, director of marketing at The Salvation Army Nashville Area Command.

Since April 2008, Nashville’s calls for service have tripled, and the number of calls each month has reached 2,000. “We don’t expect that to lessen at all, and we expect it to increase going into this holiday season,” said Eldridge.

Historically, donations drop as much as 60 percent in the summer compared to the holiday season, Eldridge said. “This Christmas in July campaign, we started for the first time this year in Nashville, to bring awareness to the community that people are in great need here in our city and to continue our programming during the summer we need support even in the summer months,” she said.

“Our immediate challenges are to keep pace with cost and demand. We don’t see any way to keep pace with demand,” Eldridge said.  NPT