Olean Salvation Army

Children are shown manning an Olean Salvation Army Red Kettle last year. Officials said an online Red Kettle campaign is already accepting donations to help with increased demands for help, but volunteers will still be needed to man red kettles beginning in November.

OLEAN — The Olean Salvation Army, as well as branches of the organization throughout the country, began staging the “Rescue Christmas” holiday fundraising campaign this month to meet increasing needs.

Major Tommy Rogers of the Olean Salvation Army at 310 E. State St., said the online campaign is currently accepting online donations at the Virtual Red Kettle at http://salarmy.us/empredkettle. He said the organization will also conduct the traditional Red Kettle Campaign from Nov. 9 through Dec. 24 and is currently recruiting volunteers to stand at several kettles throughout the community.

Coronavirus-compliant practices, such as the wearing of masks at the red kettles, will be implemented at each site.

“We have restrictions in place to keep everybody safe,” Rogers said. “We’ll have one person standing at a kettle at time.”

He said the Kettle Pay option, which can accept Google Pay and Apple Pay, will also be available at each kettle.The program has smart chips and QR codes located on the Red Kettle signs. To make a donation in this manner, shoppers simply “bump” or scan their phones to make a digital donation.

Salvation Army officials at the national level said this is the earliest the campaign has started in 130 years — and is due to COVID-19 which has caused an all-time high increase in requests for help. Officials speculate the organization could serve up to 155% more people nationwide in 2020 with Christmas assistance, which includes putting food on the table, paying bills, providing shelter and helping place gifts under the tree.

Officials also believe that with the closing of retail stores, consumers carrying less cash and coins,and the decline in foot traffic, the organization could see as much as a 50 percent decrease in funds raised nationally through the red kettles.

Major Ivan Rock, State Commander for the Empire State Division of the Salvation Army, put this in perspective by noting last year the organization raised about $3.8 million across the division through about 2,000 red kettles. He said last year the division served 4.3 million meals, but since COVID-19 hit six months ago, the organization has already served 5.4 million meals.

Rogers said that although the local organization hasn’t been open to the public, food boxes are delivered by volunteers to the needy in the community.

“We thought that would be the safest bet,” Rogers said of the deliveries. “We want to make sure that everybody feels comfortable.”

Rogers noted food pantry products are also placed outside on the organization’s porch for individuals to take what they need. In addition, the organization works with the Olean Food Pantry and picks up supplies at the Leo Moss Drive facility every other week.

On a related note, Rogers said in-person church services are held at 10:30 a.m. Sundays and there is a 15-person capacity. Worshipers are asked to wear masks.

For more information on volunteering or donations, call the organization at 372-6740, email tommy.rogers@use.salvationarmy.org or send checks to The Salvation Army, PO Box 28, Olean, NY, 14760. The memo line on checks should state “Kettles 2020.”

(Contact reporter Kate Day Sager at kates_th@yahoo.com. Follow her on Twitter, @OTHKate)