What people may not realize as they walk by the iconic red kettles this holiday season is how much more dependent the Salvation Army is on the dollars and coins dropped into the metal kettles.
Public support is becoming more vital as the Salvation Army sees state and federal social services funding cut, said Maj. Julio Vasquez of the Tri-Cities Salvation Army.
Today, the Salvation Army kicks off its Red Kettle Campaign at 10 a.m. at the Kennewick Fred Meyer.
And Vasquez, the Tri-Cities area coordinator, is praying to see a 21 percent increase in donations to the campaign this year. That's because the need has grown, he said. At the same time, state and federal funding for the nonprofit likely will be slashed by more than 50 percent next year.
The goal is to raise $150,000, which would be a bump up from the $124,000 collected in 2010. Dollars and coins dropped into the red kettles represent about 10 percent of the Salvation Army's $1.5 million Tri-City budget, he said.
About 9 percent of the 2011 budget comes from the state and federal government to help pay for food, rent and utility assistance for families in need. Vasquez said he expects to see the estimated $114,000 received this year slashed to $50,000 in 2012.
The rest of the budget comes from in-kind donations such as food, clothes and toys, United Way and individual donations, he said. With every $1 the Salvation Army receives, 82 cents goes directly to services.
The Salvation Army itself has slimmed down, with the merger of the Salvation Army in Pasco and Richland when Julio and Karen Vasquez became the corps officers about four months ago.
The Tri-Cities Salvation Army now has two corps officers instead of four, and its staff was cut from eight employees to three.
Julio Vasquez said they haven't seen staffing cuts like these in the 23 years they have worked for the Salvation Army.
Having new leaders and a smaller staff has added another layer of difficulty to preparing for the Salvation Army's largest fundraiser and the holiday aid. But, Julio Vasquez said they are ready.
Julio Vasquez said they want to remind people that the white-clad missionaries from the Missionary Church of the Disciples of Jesus Christ have no connection to the Salvation Army.
They have been told some of those missionaries, who ask for donations on street corners and at businesses, have claimed to collect money for the Salvation Army, Karen Vasquez said.
Volunteers and the 40 unemployed workers who were hired as bell ringers will have a Salvation Army apron on and a badge, Julio Vasquez said. And of course, the red kettle is a giveaway.
Kettles will be at 23 locations in the Tri-Cities from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. until Dec. 24.
Needs have increased, but donations have fallen. And some families who have donated now need help.
One woman who has donated to the Salvation Army each year for Thanksgiving sent an apology letter because she couldn't spare the money this year, Julio Vasquez said. She is caring for her grandchildren and had some medical expenses.
So this year, her family will be in the charity's adopt-a-family program so her grandchildren can receive toys for Christmas, he said.
The Salvation Army has 514 families signed up to receive holiday aid, which represents about 1,800 kids up to age 12, said Colleen Miller, the Salvation Army social services director.
Applications for that assistance no longer are being accepted, and those who call now are being urged to dial 211 to contact the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems and find United Way programs that are accepting children.
That means the Salvation Army will need to aim for about 4,000 gifts with the Angel Tree program, Julio Vasquez said.
"We pray that we are going to be able to do that," he said.
Angel Tree begins the day after Thanksgiving, with the main location at Columbia Center mall from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and runs untilDec. 23. The goal is for 18 Angel Tree locations, which would match last year's participation.
In addition to one toy per child, families receive a food box. Miller said members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Tri-Cities will be filling more than 1,300 food boxes. That provides food for Christmas and helps stock the Salvation Army's shelves until April or May.
So far, sponsors have signed up to adopt four families, Miller said. The total number of adopted families depends on how many businesses, individuals and groups sign up as sponsors.
Adopted families receive gifts for all of their children. Each parent also receives a gift, as well as items such as laundry detergent and wrapping paper.
Last year, 57 families were adopted for Christmas, which was more than had been adopted in 2009, Miller said. Families must have extremely low income to be adopted and some hardship in the family, such as domestic violence, job loss, divorce or loss of a family member.
Volunteers still are needed to help with Angel Tree and bell-ringing.
To volunteer, please call 547-2138 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Red kettle locations are online at www.salvationarmybf.org.
To adopt a family, contact Colleen Miller at email@example.com. Sponsors need to sign up by Dec. 2.