The Salvation Army’s iconic red kettles that shoppers see at stores around Clark County this time of year aren’t as flush with donations as they used to be.
“It is with a heavy heart that I report to our community that for whatever reason giving to the Red Kettle and mail appeals is down significantly,” Major Michael Nute said in a news release.
The Christian nonprofit also actively solicits donations online to help support its programs, which provide about 16,000 Clark County residents with services such as job training, food, clothing and emergency rent assistance. Most of the nonprofit’s income comes in during the holiday season, said Steve Rusk, community relations and development director. About 15 percent of its annual budget comes through donations to the red kettles set up in more than 60 locations around the county.
“We rely on the public’s generosity, most especially at Christmas time, to meet basic human needs throughout the year,” Nute said.
The local Salvation Army surmised one reason for the dip in donations is there are fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, making the holiday shopping and giving season shorter than normal. The Vancouver branch of the international nonprofit is not alone; Salvation Armies across the country have also struggled to solicit funds over the holidays.
According to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, The Salvation Army is America’s third favorite charity and the world’s largest nongovernmental provider of poverty relief. However, support could be waning.
Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg was recently criticized for photos that surfaced of him volunteering as a bell ringer, according to NBC News. Chick-fil-A announced last month it would no longer make multiyear commitments, which included donations to The Salvation Army. At the center of these recent news stories were complaints that the nonprofit is anti-LGBTQ.
In response David Hudson, national commander of The Salvation Army, wrote an op-ed in USA Today last month: “Our doors are, and always have been, open to all. We don’t ask anyone their orientation, identity or beliefs, to help ensure that they feel welcome and safe. So while we can’t claim an exact number, we believe by sheer size and access that we are the largest provider of poverty relief for people in the LGBTQ community.”
Mission to preach, serve
The Salvation Army’s mission is to “preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and meet human needs in His name without discrimination.”
Hudson said The Salvation Army serves anyone, including those who may not be Christian. “At minimum, perpetuating rhetoric that vilifies an organization with the reach, housing, programming and resources that we have in place to lift them up is counterintuitive and inefficient. But when that organization depends on the generosity of donors to provide much-needed assistance to so many across all walks of life, it’s devastating,” the op-ed said. “Surely no one wants to see programs for those living in poverty eliminated simply because some disagree with the theology of those who provide them.”
Rusk said the controversy began when an army officer in Australia showed his personal bias, which spread on social media “like wildfire.”
“In an organization this size, it’s hard to control every voice and opinion,” Rusk said.
He said the nonprofit had to disprove the concerns of elected officials during the capital campaign for the newly expanded east Vancouver campus. When asked whether The Salvation Army’s perceived stances on LGBTQ people could be a reason for declining donations locally, Rusk said, “it might.”
“There has been some notable effort put forth by its leadership in the Western Territory to address that,” he said. “We are clearly not discriminatory in our services. We have the support of people who are represented in the LGBTQ community.”
The Columbian asked readers why they do or do not donate to The Salvation Army in Vancouver. Some said they do not give to the organization because it discriminates or they disagree with where it stands on certain issues, and they can donate money to other worthy nonprofits. One reader, Jacob Lawrence, said he avoids donating to any faith-based organization. Others may give things to the Salvation Army’s thrift store in Orchards but not money.
Carol Keljo said she is an avid supporter of The Salvation Army for many reasons, the main being how the nonprofit helped her mother who was extremely poor growing up and had to drop out of school to care for her family. “My mother told me they never would have had anything for Christmas if it wasn’t for The Salvation Army,” Keljo said in an email.