(TNS) — The Salvation Army’s iconic Red Kettle bell ringers have been around since the late 1800s, but they’ll be stepping into the 21st century this holiday season when they start accepting donations using Apple Pay and Google Pay,
Kettle Pay, a nationwide initiative the nonprofit charity is adopting this year, is in response to fewer and fewer people having money readily available to drop into the kettle when going in to or out of stores, said Capt. Xavier Montenegro of the Elgin Salvation Army Corps.
“Kettle Pay is a response to the reality of fewer shoppers carrying cash," Montenegro said. "So many people use their phone or credit cards to pay for things these days that we needed a new way to engage these donors.
"It removes that situation where people say, ‘I don’t have cash on me.' We hear that a lot. I’ve rung bells and there are people who really want to donate, but they don’t have cash. I think decreasing those barriers will help people who want to give can right then and there and will help us reach our goal.”
Smart chips and QR codes will be placed on Red Kettle signs allowing shoppers to simply “bump” or scan their phones to make a digital donation, said Rick Reigner, resource development director for the Elgin Salvation Army. The donor will be directed to a custom donation page that accepts Apple or Google payment options, he said.
Funds collected will be distributed to local Salvation Army units based on the donor’s billing ZIP code, Reigner said. An email receipt will be sent directly to their phone.
“I know I use my phone or credit card to pay for things. It’s the reality,” Montenegro said.
This year’s campaign starts Nov. 8 and continues through Christmas Eve. Volunteers ring bells from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day except Sundays and Thanksgiving Day, Montenegro said. There are about 40 sites in and around Elgin and Carpentersville.
“The money we collect there comes to our area,” Montenegro said.
Donations provide toys for kids at Christmas, clothing and shelter for the homeless, food for the hungry and after-school programs, Reigner said. The kettle campaign is the Elgin Salvation Army’s most significant fundraiser and raised $211,000 last year, Montenegro said. The goal this year is $235,000, he said.
The kettle campaign started in 1881 San Francisco by Capt. Joe McFee, who was seeking a way to raise enough money to feed 1,000 poor people on Christmas Day, Reigner said. The bell ringing followed in 1900, when a young cadet decided to ring a 10-cent bell to attract attention to the kettle, he said.
The Elgin branch of the Salvation Army was established in 1885, Montenegro said, and the Red Kettle campaign started shortly afterward, he said.
Up through the 1990s, people carried cash because it was a normal thing to do, Montenegro said. Since that time, people find it easier to use their phones and cards to make purchases, he said.
“It’s funny, ringing a bell was considered new technology back in the 1900s," he said. "It was a way of getting people’s attention to donate. Over the years, we’ve introduced online donations and texting donations. We’re trying to keep up and make it as easy as possible.”
While volunteers tell people donations can be made online, people don’t always have time to do that or may forget, he said. Kettle Pay makes “it easier for people to do it right away, when they are thinking about it. ... We want people to be able to donate right away.”
Elgin Salvation Army also needs volunteers to ring bells. While the Kettle Pay sign will be available even if no one is there ringing bells, volunteers are important, Montenegro said. The Salvation Army has found that when no one is ringing a bell next to a kettles, people are less likely to give, he said.
“Our goal this year is to have 725 volunteer hours,” he said. Last year, the agency reached 590 volunteer hours.
“We do hire people, but this year we’re trying to emphasize getting more volunteers and getting people to invest a little in the community because it really supports all we’re trying to do through the year,” Montenegro said.
The Elgin Salvation Army’s Volunteer Day is Dec. 14, and Montenegro is striving to have every kettle site manned.
A bell ringer can bring in about $60 over a two-hour shift, which "stays in the community and helps our neighbors,” Montenegro said. “Every time we have people out there, even for a couple of hours, it helps us run the programs we have here.”
©2019 The Courier-News (Elgin, Ill.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.