Kettle volunteers AWOL amid rising need for services

COVID-19 has stifled Salvation Army’s ability to recruit volunteers for its most important fundraising event of the year, even as more people turn to the organization for food, clothing and other supports. 

“We have always relied on our senior population to help us with the program and many of them are unable to, due to vulnerabilities with the pandemic,” Salvation Army director Darrell Pilgrim told Coast Reporter.

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Normally about 100 volunteers take shifts ringing the bell that signals holiday giving at six locations on the Lower Sunshine Coast, but only a small handful of regulars soldier on almost daily throughout the kettle campaign, said Pilgrim, and three of them have been forced to bow out this year due to COVID-19.

“All three of those individuals are retired elderly people who have vulnerabilities,” said Pilgrim.

The Kettle Campaign kicks off Nov. 20. Last year the campaign brought in about $135,000. All funds raised on the Sunshine Coast stay here, and are used to fund hot meal delivery and food distribution, and supply clothing and other supports.

Demand for those programs have increased since the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit ended in October. “Our numbers [are] 10 per cent higher,” said Pilgrim, with many people turning to the organization for the first time.

Aside from signing up for a one or two-hour shift, groups are encouraged to organize their own roster of volunteers or to sponsor a kettle for $500, or co-sponsor one for half the price. Businesses can match kettle funds for one or more days, set up a “specialty kettle” at an event or sponsor one.

All kettle volunteers are required to wear masks and cleaning supplies will be available at each site.

And to assist with social-distanced giving, for the first time people will have the option of using debit cards at four locations: Gibsons’ London Drugs and Sunnycrest Mall, Sechelt’s Your Independent Grocer and Trail Bay Centre.

Those interested can sign up for kettle shifts at sunshinecoastsa.ca/kettles, email kettlecampaign@eastlink.ca or call 604-740-7331.

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