‘Tis the season to donate to charities

By SpencerRoush

Sixteen years ago, Vernon Doyle was homeless and suffering from drug and alcohol addiction, but after seeking help from the Salvation Army, he completely changed his life. He has since become an avid volunteer for the Salvation Army, and this holiday season, he will be standing at his post on a busy sidewalk ringing bells during the holidays for donations that might change someone else’s life.

This year, the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Program is starting a week earlier on Nov. 13 to help bring in more funds.  The Chicago branch is expecting most of their corps community centers to have approximately double the amount of people who are in need of assistance.

“A lot of people [are in] this year and we’re just hoping and praying that the community will give,” Doyle, 50, said.

He said since he was laid off from his job working at a grocery store, he has more time to volunteer during the holidays this year. Seventy percent of the money raised for the Salvation  Army comes from the Red Kettle Program.

“This is the season where we are either able to raise funds at Christmastime or we have to reduce the services we provide during the year because we wouldn’t have the funds to run the services,” said Tyrone Staggers, corps administrator for the Chicago Temple Corps and Community Center, 1 N. Ogden Ave.

This year’s goal is to raise $12 million, which is approximately $1 million more than last year. More money is needed because middle-class citizens are asking for the organization’s assistance this year.

“In some cases, we are seeing twice as many people this year than last year,” said Jordanka Lazarevic, communications director of the Chicago Salvation Army. “In the majority of the corps centers, it was anywhere between 65 percent to more than 150 percent increase in the number of people who are being served.”

Because money is a problem in many households,  Lazarevic said she hopes people will still give donations this year so their goal can be met.

“Even people with jobs don’t necessarily know if they’ll have the jobs the next day, but the one very fortunate thing is that most people understand that if you are tightening your belt a little, there are people who are doing without anything,” Lazarevic said. “So I think people, even in these difficult economic times, are generous when it comes to feeding their … next-door neighbor.”

She said they are also seeking volunteers for bell-ringing positions because if they are not filled, workers will have to be hired and paid .

Staggers said the Chicago Temple Corps and Community Center located in the West Loop is still in need of volunteers to help ring the donation bells and ask for donations in the downtown area. He said the goal for their center is to raise $150,000, but if they have to hire people to fill positions, that money will have to be recouped through donations.

Lazarevic said they are trying new, innovative ways to encourage people to donate such as a virtual red kettle on the SalarmyChicago.org Web site, and also a couple of credit card machines that will be at two locations in the city.

This is the first year Chicago will try to use credit card machines in the city for the Red Kettle Program, which Lazarevic said might help with the amount of donations.

“What we’ve heard so far is that it has a good initial review,” Staggers said. “We hope it’s something that the public sees as [a] good thing. As far as I know, we’ve done our studying to make sure that whatever information is given, it’s kept confidential.”

The Red Kettle Program will begin Nov. 13 and end in late January.

For more information about volunteering, donating or to find a corps community center in your area, visit SalarmyChicago.org.