Salvation Army Corps Officer Maj. Michael Rodgers looks for another successful year locally of the group’s Red Kettles Drive in spite of early setbacks. He relies on a mixture of insight and experience sharpened from his experiences ringing the bells at kettles in many different areas.
“The contributions continue to be steady,” said Rodgers. “All in all folks are supporting us even after starting a little bit later this year.” He said he doesn’t have any formal figures on the drive, which has set a goal of $60,000. Rodgers said he has been enjoying an upsurge in volunteers this year compared to previous years. He estimated the drive is behind several thousand dollars from what was taken in last year at this time.
He said the red kettle drive began with the Salvation Army in the 1800s in New York and the church moved into Surry County around 1939. Prior to that, the group had been based in Hickory before another chapter was established locally. Rodgers explained the drive relies heavily on the cooperation of local businesses to give them locations to set up the collection points.
Rodgers said the drive’s efforts were affected last year when Walmart Corporate officers decided not to let the army to operate at their store entrances. Rodgers said the stores in Elkin and Mount Airy typically have a total of four doors at the entrances to the grocery and general merchandise sides of the stores. He said when you multiply this represents the potential to collect four times as much as a single entrance the effect can be profound.
“That was a lot of folks lost the year high ranking corporate officers decided we couldn’t set up there,” explained Rodgers, who added that Walmart allowed them to set up this year. “We appreciate being back and this was not a decision made by the local mangers. They have always been fantastic to work with.”
Rodgers praised the cooperation of other retailers including Kmart, Belk, Big Lots and the New Market Crossing Shopping Center, Pandowdy’s, Garanco Inc., as well as Just Save in Pilot Mountain.
“The weather is also cooperating with us this year,” said Rodgers. “It really looks like when you subtract what we were not able to collect at the Walmarts last year, we are going to be on par with last season. This success is supported by a great volunteer effort. Individuals, church groups, and others have really stepped forward this year and we’re hoping it will continue.”
He said a total of 1,049 families have signed up for Christmas assistance from the army this year in addition to food and clothing the group gives out daily. He said many of those needing help are from families who rely on minimum wage earnings and part-time jobs. Rodgers said the average for Christmas assistance requests is 1,000 families where four years ago the average was more than 500. He also said the group is seeking to serve seniors’ needs.
“Families can sometimes get other aid, but seniors cannot often get help with the costs of their medications,” added Rodgers. “Our focus at Christmas is on the children. The county school system are well connected with us and help a lot. We are trying to meet the needs of the community as best we can.”
Jamie Burkhart is an example of an enthusiastic bell ringer involved in the kettle drive. He is a 13-year veteran and has become quite a fixture at Walmart 1039 in Mount Airy, often receiving hugs along with donations.
“I told him when he asked that I’d like to try it out,” said Burkhart, who is a Mount Airy resident and a family man with two children. His son, Timmy, is 5-months-old and Julie is 2-years-old. “I always have enjoyed seeing the little kids put in something. It doesn’t matter the amount they give. They enjoy it.”
He said years at the kettle in all types of weather and with all types of people has resulted in him seeing “a lot of stuff.” He said that rude people are the exception and the minority.
“You get to see a lot of kinds of people doing this. I give them a smile no matter what. Sometimes they come back later and give something. There’s a lot of people who know me and I don’t know them. I learned to smile no matter what. You do what you do and go on.”
He said different Christmas seasons have different moods expressed by the shoppers. He said one can always count on shoppers getting more stressed the closer Christmas gets, but they also are getting more relieved because they are almost done.
“All this doesn’t mess with the giving part,” said Burkhart. “This year the weather has been good. We’ve had some cool days. I think it helps when it’s cooler.”
Reach David Broyles at email@example.com or 719-1952.