Harriet Howard Heithaus
| Fort Myers News-Press
Call them Qettles. Or perhaps QRettles.
Whatever the new name, the Salvation Army is ready to roll out its QR-enhanced kettles in 68 spots around Lee, Hendry and Glades counties. The familiar red kettles will go up in high-traffic pedestrian areas beginning the morning after Thanksgiving, and the QR codes on their signs will offer givers a cyber-option. Contributors can flash their phones at the kettle sign, select an amount and donate via credit card, Paypal or Apple Pay.
Some things about the holiday kettles are timeless: Attendants will still ring the bell.
In fact, those bell ringers are a good catalyst for personal donations, and the Salvation Army Fort Myers command is looking for volunteers now.
“We try to touch as many outlets — existing, and potential, partners — as we can, including existing volunteers, Salvation Army partners, partner agencies, civic groups, clubs, churches,” said Kara Jeudy, Army development director for Fort Myers.
Sometimes, however, the willing public are the best ambassadors for the Army’s annual collection for Christmas and family needs, she noted.
Volunteers have gotten into the Christmas spirit, some singing at their kettles, and one, as long as she was physically able, came costumed as an elf, bedecked with lights.
The red kettles receive interesting donations as well as bell ringers. Rings, valuable coins and “lots of foreign money” show up in the kettles, said Jeudy; they have even yielded gold teeth. Until 2017, a $20 gold Liberty Eagle coin worth around $1,500, wrapped in a note that proclaimed “In loving memory of Mimi,” would appear in a different Lee County kettle each year.
The plea this year is especially deep: Income is projected to drop by 55 percent, but the needs have climbed to an estimated 155 percent above last year, according to the Fort Myers Command. Jeudy estimates meeting that need would require around $775,000.
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The Salvation Army has increasingly relied on volunteers from the public to keep the presence.
“We would love to have every single kettle manned with a volunteer the entire season, but it depends on folks who are — especially under these special circumstances — willing to come out,” she said.
The regional Salvation Army sets up safety protocols around masks, sanitizers and disinfectants, she added.
“The Salvation Army can’t do it alone. We need the army of volunteers, an army of donors that are part of our Salvation Army family, to help us respond to the needs of the communities we live in.”
Those who are interested can volunteer online: registertoring.com
It’s the second year to offer the cellphone alternative at its kettles for the Salvation Army Fort Myers Command, which covers those three counties. But Jeudy said they may have been overlooked or misunderstood last season.
There were start-up issues all the way around, she said: “We hadn’t worked out some of the kinks in recording what they brought in.” But Jeudy feels the program is ready now. “We are pushing it quite a bit more this year.”
Among the challenges at their kettles may be that fewer people may be out shopping, whether it is because they can’t afford to or whether they’ve bought more holiday gifts online. A Lending Tree survey found 25 percent of Americans had bought all their December gifts by mid-October.
So the Army is advancing other ideas for giving: friendly peer-to-peer fundraising competitions; corporate projects, adoption of an Angel Tree, the other segment of Salvation Army’s holiday distributions.
The program sends out tags of gift wishes that organizations adopt. The practice is to tie them on a tree from which donors can take a tag, buy the named item and return it to the organization for Army pickup.
Jeudy estimates that, on average, the Salvation Army helps about 4,000 children in the tri-county area each year and about 10,000 people in Southwest Florida. Via email, she expressed an optimism that the potential increase in need will be met with an increase of generosity from a community that always has risen to the challenge.
“With the compassion and generosity, we’ve seen from Southwest Florida in the past, we’re hopeful that local children and families in need will know that they are loved and cared for as part of this community and are not forgotten this Christmas.”
Harriet Howard Heithaus writes for the Naples Daily News/naplesnews.com and The News-Press. Reach her at 239-213-6091.