WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — The Salvation Army in Wilkes-Barre serves the community year-round and the need is increasing.
"We're seeing so many people without work, without jobs, they can't go to work because they don't have babysitters," said Lt. Ismael Ortiz. "The need for food is better than ever, and the need for utility assistance and things like that are more than ever."
The organization relies on fundraisers and donations to keep the doors open. Its most recognizable effort is also its most important.
"The Red Kettle Campaign is Salvation Army's biggest campaign. It's our biggest campaign here in Wilkes-Barre," Ortiz said. "It's where we raise the most funds for our entire year. This year we're really having trouble getting volunteers to stand kettles for us."
Instead of collecting donations, many of those kettles are still in the Salvation Army headquarters in Wilkes-Barre. The nonprofit has been forced to do something it's never done in the campaigns 130 years; pay bell ringers.
"Those that are standing right now are getting the $10 an hour, most of them," Ortiz said. "Some of them are volunteering, but most of them are getting the $10 an hour because they need the help for their household."
The campaign does see some volunteers and larger groups supporting the cause. Students from the class for autism at Wilkes-Barre High School brought their spirited songs to the front of Boscov's in the Diamond City.
Still, contributions are down.
"We're seeing lower numbers this year than we did last year," Ortiz said. "Not as many stores have let us stand this year, and not as many people are giving as they did last year."
The downward trends are impacting other programs within the organization.
"Our Angel Tree program has really taken a hit also this year as we had ten companies drop out of the Angel Tree because they didn't have enough employees to fill the tags," Ortiz said. "We're short on gifts, we're short on coats, and we're short on donations."
If you'd like to get involved with the Red Kettle Campaign in Wilkes-Barre and beyond, you can reach the Salvation Army offices at 570-824-8741.
Want to see more holiday stories? Check out the WNEP YouTube channel.