With people carrying less cash, Salvation Army kettles less full


Desmond Anderson, 2, with his mother, Kathy Anderson, right, returns the holiday bell to Jackie VanSchoick while she collects donations for the Salvation Army outside of Walmart on Northwest 13th Street in Gainesville on Wednesday.

Erica Brough/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, December 5, 2012 at 4:23 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 5, 2012 at 4:23 p.m.

Lt. Preston Lewis can relate to people in this increasingly cashless society who don't carry around dollars and coins anymore.

He's one of them.

"I haven't had a dollar bill in my pocket in a long time," the Salvation Army of Gainesville corps officer said Wednesday. "I have a debit card, and we always use it."

But when it comes to holiday giving, is the dearth of cash in people's pockets leading to the death of donations at the iconic red kettles of the Salvation Army that pop up around town this time of year?

"We're seeing a flat line of cash giving," Lewis said. "We'd like to see it increase, but a flat line is better than dipping below the water line."

Nationally, the Salvation Army is moving to keep pace with the changing culture. Last year, the organization partnered with Square to set up credit card readers using smartphones in 10 test markets, including Orlando.

The experiment is continuing this year, Lewis said, adding that he hopes Gainesville will get a reader next year.

People also can contribute online by setting up an individual, team or company kettle and collecting donations that way.

Besides convenience, Internet donations offer a tax advantage. Everyone who gives to an Online Red Kettle receives an email acknowledgement that can be printed and used for tax purposes.

The Salvation Army reported it raised more than $1.7 million through the Online Red Kettles in 2011, up from $1.6 million in 2010. Overall, the organization raised a record $147.6 million during the 2011 Christmas Red Kettle Campaign, a $5.6 million increase from 2010.

Since 1891, though, the big driver has been the ubiquitous storefront kettles, with their familiar tinkling bells.

"It kind of ushers in the season," Lewis said. "You get out in the parking lot, and you hear the same pitch and tone of the bell. You know exactly what it is."

Folks want to give, he said, but they often just don't have any cash on hand. "People will make an apology going into a store and say, ‘Look, when I come out, I'll bring you something,' " he said.

Sami Main had to think for a moment to remember the last time she used cash.

"I was running late for a class, and I gathered some dollars from random places around my room" for a run to Starbucks, she recalled.

Main, 21, a University of Florida senior, said when she was a youngster, her parents would give her dollars to put into the Salvation Army's kettles.

"I would love to donate," she said. "Especially for me, it's important during the holiday season. I feel bad. I appreciate what they're doing."

Lewis said he appreciates the generosity of the community, including the large number of foreign students in Gainesville who are not familiar with the Salvation Army and the red kettles but who quickly catch on.

"We receive a lot of foreign currency," he said. "We have quite a collection of coins. The thought is there. This is their first opportunity to see a red kettle."

Lewis added that in a college town like Gainesville, it can be a struggle for students to part with money. But they seem to find a way.

"We can tell that they cleaned out the consoles of their cars," he said, "because we get sticky coins."

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