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2020 Red Kettle drive called a success

Courtesy photo The 2020 Salvation Army Red Kettle fundraiser was a big success, due to generosity community support.

ESCANABA — This year’s Salvation Army Red Kettle fundraiser went well, according to Major Alex Norton, who runs the Escanaba Salvation Army with his wife Aimee.

The charity ran both a physical drive this year, with kettles in front of local stores, and a virtual drive, sending donation envelopes out in issues of the Daily Press.

While Norton said finding volunteer bell ringers during the pandemic was an additional challenge.

“Volunteers were nervous. They would hear announcements on news about the virus and didn’t want to go out,” he said.

Many of the Salvation Army’s volunteer bell ringers in the past came from community service clubs such as Kiwanis. Due to COVID-19 restrictions this year, however, the groups could not hold meetings, causing a steep drop in volunteer participation. Norton said as a result many groups showed support this year through donations instead of volunteers.

The lack of volunteers spurred the charity to hire bell ringers to fill the gaps. Norton believes the work does more than help people buy food and gifts for the holidays.

“It helps them to feel empowered. Most of the time we’ve noticed people will use those opportunities,” he said, referring to the morale boost that earning the extra money can give bell ringers. Norton said they are often themselves struggling financially. Participating makes them feel like they are part of the experience of helping others, he said.

The response to the kettle drive this year was tremendous, with donors more inclined to give than ever, Norton said. The fundraising goal was met in the last couple of days before Christmas, enabling the charity to raise a little extra for “breathing room.”

Elmer’s County Market raised the most money for the Salvation Army this year, beating out big box stores like Walmart. Collecting $40,422.83 in donations, they beat the 2019 total at the same location in the same amount of hours by $25,025.48. The efforts of Pat’s IGA in Gladstone also produced a very large sum this year, Norton said.

Despite concerns about a cash shortage during the pandemic, the Salvation Army did not have to resort to electronic pay methods such as Apple Pay, which Norton finds are not yet trusted in the Upper Peninsula.

“Especially in this area, to get them to move over to an electronic mindset is very difficult,” he said. The Salvation Army tried QR codes to collect money using smartphones this Christmas as well, but people were not familiar with their use. In the end, Norton was surprised to see that not only were people generous in making cash donations in 2020’s Red Kettle drive, people were giving much larger bills than usual.

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