Out with the old, in with the new: Salvation Army rings in new traditions with the digital era

The 1950 holiday classic “Silver Bells,” written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, was inspired by the sounds of the Salvation Army Santas ringing bells on New York City street corners during the annual Red Kettle Campaign.

Those bells have also been ringing on the streets of Northeast Ohio for most of the Salvation Army Greater Cleveland’s 150-year history. But these days—due to store closures and high use of credit cards—Major Thomas Applin says the Salvation Army is finding new ways to boost its largest and most known fundraiser.


“[The Red Kettle campaign] has always been a strong campaign for us, but several issues make it harder than before,” says Applin, divisional secretary for Greater Cleveland. “The single most piece is people aren’t carrying cash—if you don’t have cash, you can’t put your change in the kettle. Beyond that, so many people are shopping online, so you don’t get the foot traffic. In any given year, there are store closures, with major stores and chains closing or downsizing. And, in any given year, we have that lovely thing called bad weather.”

So, this year the Salvation Army is turning to online donations, peer-to-peer fundraisers, and corporate sponsorships to raise additional funds this holiday season—and provide funding for Salvation Army programs and services throughout the entire year. “November and December are so critical to us,” says Applin, who came to Cleveland from the Buffalo Salvation Army in July.

Applin says this year’s Red Kettle goal is $740,000, but the organization’s actual goal is $2 million when other fundraising avenues are included. That money goes toward food, shelter, and clothing for those in need, as well as educational and after-school mentoring programs and other causes like helping human trafficking victims.

“That $2 million sustains us all year,” Applin explains. “Salvation Army is doing work all year long, not just at Christmas.”

One way the local Salvation Army is making up for diminishing Red Kettle donations is to hold “Paper Kettle” campaigns with local partners. For instance, Hofbrauhaus Cleveland is selling paper kettles during the holiday season for a $5 donation to the Salvation Army, and Applin says they have also invited the Cleveland Salvation Army to be part of their seasonal doppelbock keg tapping on Wednesday, December 4.

“Hofbrauhaus is hosting us when they tap their new brew, and they invited us to come tell our story,” explains Applin. “What’s really nice is they’ve enlisted the help of their servers to make the pitch and ask for donations.”

Applin says they have had good success in similar campaigns elsewhere in the country, and he is hoping to make it a popular part of Cleveland's Red Kettle campaign as well. “We’ll be looking for others to do the same thing [as Hofbrauhaus],” he says. “It’s a great way to sponsor the Army—by just giving $1 or $5 for a paper kettle.”

Other corporate sponsorships involve employees making donations for the right to dress down at work on a Friday. “If we could get 10 to 20 organizations across the county, that would be a great impact,” Applin says.

Individuals can get involved in the campaign by making online donations and/or creating a “fundraising page to encourage friends, family, and coworkers to give online to the Red Kettle,” Applin says. “It’s a simple way to do the online Red Kettle, and it only takes three or four minutes to get the page set up.”

If nothing else, Applin says they are always looking for bell ringer volunteers to man the traditional kettles.

No matter how Clevelanders support the Salvation Army, Applin says they are grateful for all of the support to date. “We thank the community for their longstanding support of the Army,” he says. “We’re hopeful that again this year—when we get to the end of January and tally the results—our needs will be met. Because our needs are the needs of the people.”

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.
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