NORFOLK -- In a matter of days, the bell ringing will cease, and the red kettles will be put away. The Salvation Army's biggest fundraising season of the year winds to a close, but compared to last year, this one could fall tens of thousands of dollars short.
"The fact is, we've lost about 20 percent of our locations this year," explained Tidewater Area Commander Captain Brett Meredith. "There are fewer companies who are amenable to allowing charities like The Salvation Army to be in front of their locations anymore, and we're appreciative to those who do."
Meredith said the group is working to restore those locations for next year. Their loss, he believes, is at least part of the reason the local drive remained about $65,000 to $70,000 short of the money raised in 2011. It comes at a time when the community in need has grown and changed.
"Over the last 5 years, we've seen people come through our doors for help that have never come through our doors. They were our donors," Meredith told 13News. "Our donors, in many cases, have lost their jobs, been unemployed for a year, 2 years, sometimes 3 years, and they're now coming in for help."
"I never considered myself, thought I would be in a situation where I would need help from Salvation Army," said David Berry who lost his job and is homeless.
Berry shared he has received Christmas toys from The Salvation Army for his children and assistance paying utility bills in the past.
"We just gotta try harder and get more people out here to participate in the kettle ringing, volunteer, and to make people aware that this is a necessity," Berry stated.
Besides services for the homeless, a major shortfall could jeopardize other year-round work, including programs geared towards young people.
"We impact about 200 to 250 teens every week in Hampton Roads, and, so, you know, those are important programs," Meredith said. "We're also getting ready to expand with two after-school programs in 2013, so that's a major expansion. We have to have funding to fund those programs, but they're very much in needed communities. One is right here in Norfolk, and the other will be in Portsmouth."
Despite the drop leading up to the final day of the drive (Christmas Eve), Meredith and others in the Tidewater Command are confident that any gap that remains will be relatively small.
"We believe in people, and we believe that people will come through for us, and we trust that will happen," said Meredith.