Outside the Hobby Lobby on Coldwater Road on Wednesday afternoon bell-ringer Fred Harris was singing his heart out as shoppers walked in and out of the store.
Every now and then he would punctuate whatever Christmas carol he was singing with a “Thank you," "God bless" or "Have a Merry Christmas” as someone placed a donation in the red kettle that he stood by. For the past five years Harris has been working for the Salvation Army during its annual Red Kettle Campaign. Harris said people like his singing and he even has people who will sing along with him.
People were hustling in and out of Hobby Lobby, but donations seemed to only come from about every fifth person.
Maj. Harold Poff of the Salvation Army said Red Kettle donations are slow to come in this year. As of Monday the agency was at a little over $178,000, which is not even halfway to its goal of $500,000 for the campaign. Last year by Dec. 14 the agency had collected 58 percent of its goal.
Poff said this is the Salvation Army's largest fundraiser of the year, it's used to support agency programs that run throughout the year, including one that gives people assistance with their utilities and rent and an after-school program, which provides tutoring for students.
Poff said this year has been particularly bad with more people working part time and unable to pay their utility bills.
“People may be working half as much, but their utilities are not going down,” Poff said.
The Salvation Army might look at ways to cut back next year, Poff said, if the drive falls short. In the past the agency has been able to cut back through attrition. This year he is not sure just how it will cut back, but he hopes it would not have to sacrifice programming.
“Giving has been down overall,” Poff said
The agency has more Red Kettle locations this year with 35-40 workers on sites through Christmas Eve. Poff said he is hopeful that as people finish up their shopping they will be more willing to make a donation.
Outside the Kroger Marketplace on Dupont Road the parking lot was jammed with cars, and shoppers were streaming in and out. Ten-year bell-ringer Larry Freeman rang his bell, and although he wasn't singing, he bantered with patrons as they came and went. Freeman would occasionally encourage kids to ring the bell with him, but Wednesday they all seemed to suffer from shyness.
Freeman said he volunteers to ring the bell for the people who need the help, especially the children. Wednesday he would be putting in a 10-hour shift.
The Red Kettle campaign will continue through Christmas Eve, Monday. Poff said people can also donate at the Salvation Army, 2901 N. Clinton St., or anytime at: http://corps.salvationarmyindiana.org/fortwayne/ways-to-give.