It's that time of year again when the Salvation Army kettles and bells can be heard tinkling their tunes throughout the district.
This year their songs are more important than ever.
The Salvation Army kicked off their kettle campaign in Fort Frances last Friday, setting up their bell just inside Walmart and extending mayor June Caul the opportunity to be the first to drop her donation into the red kettle. Of the campaign, Salvation Army Fort Frances' corps officer Arthur Heathcote acknowledged that in such a difficult and tumultuous year as 2020 has been, the Salvation Army's efforts are more important than ever.
“Over the last number of months we've seen a 58 percent increase in our food bank use, which means that people who were laid off or lost their job during COVId are really feeling the pinch this year,” Heathcote explained.
“It's messed up with their financial plans, so we're seeing them coming for the first time ever to the food bank asking for help and they're also submitting applications for food hampers as well, because they're going to need help getting toys to kids this year, as well as putting food on the table.”
The organization's kettle campaign is an excellent and accessible way to help those in the community who need assistance, as all of the funds raised through the campaign stays in the district to help those close to home. the money raised throughout the duration of the campaign also helps to keep the Salvation Army doing what they do best even outside of the holiday season.
“Every little bit helps,” he said.
“The kettle campaign helps to fortify those efforts along with the other campaigns that are going on in the city, and we're just looking forward to being able to meet each and every need that we encounter this year. No one is turned away at the Salvation Army.”
Of course, as the demand on the programs offered through the Salvation Army increases, so too does the need for community support. Heathcote noted that the strong community support they saw during last year's holiday season directly helped them to weather the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and related shutdowns.
“We actually increased our hours from six hours a week to 30 hours a week throughout the entire time,” he said.
“No one needed go hungry and that was because of the support of the community, so we're looking forward to them once again to be able to sustain us, not only through this Christmas campaign but throughout the month ahead that's still going to be tough for a lot of families.”
Heathcote said he's consistently impressed with the people in the district when the call goes out for assistance during events like the kettle campaign, and he's confident that people will step up again this year.
“There's a phenomenal spirit about the people here in Fort Frances,” Heathcote said.
“I have every confidence that they're going to come through.”
In addition to the kettle campaign, the Salvation Army is also running its annual Christmas Hamper program again this year. Heathcote noted they have received the blessing of the Northwestern Health Unit to have traditional hampers available, as opposed to the gift cards that are being handed out in other municipalities where COVID restrictions are tighter. Additionally, the Salvation Army in Fort Frances is taking steps to keep volunteers and the general public safe.
“We're proceeding with our program as usual,” Heathcote said.
“We've checked with the Health Unit and they're good with it. We're spacing out all of our appointments which is the only difference this year thats really happening, just to make sure social distancing protocols are being met, but yes, food hampers and toys for each of the kids in the family are on the agenda, unless things go sideways.”
That eye on safety is also being extended to the kettle campaign, to ensure that everyone is kept healthy this Christmas season.
“Everyone on a kettle will be wearing a mask,” Heathcote explained.
“We also have a bag full of PPE materials as well to make sure the kettle is clean and that any volunteers can be protected while they're volunteering with us.”
Heathcote noted that in some areas where restrictions surrounding COVID are more severe the kettle campaigns themselves are being disrupted. He said that all kettle campaigns in Winnipeg have been suspended for four weeks due to the Manitoba government moving the entire province to Critical on their pandemic response system.
While the campaigns in Manitoba are on pause for now, Heathcote said the Salvation Army will do what they can to keep everyone involved safe, and are still looking for volunteers to share their time to ring the bells at their two kettle locations in Fort Frances.
“Please give us a call,” Heathcote said.
“Our kettle volunteer telephone number this year is 807-271-2429, also you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We've got lots of spaces to fill at this point in time, and even with things like monetary donations, people usually step up and give us a hand throughout this entire campaign. At this point in time, the confirmed locations are Walmart and the Place.”
Following her donation at the kettle campaign kickoff, Caul also stressed the importance of the Salvaiton Army's charitable programs during this difficult year and asked those who are able to either volunteer with the Salvation Army or to drop off money or other donations to help those in need in the area.
“This year the Salvation Army is so much more important and so much more overworked because there are so many families who are going to need help,” Caul said.
“We can guarantee there are going to be a lot more families needing food hampers and monetary gifts of any kind that will help them put groceries on the table. God bless the Salvation Army for what they do for the community, because without them so many people would go hungry and children would not have a Christmas, and it's important we make sure we have Christmas of some kind, for children especially.