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Red Kettle Campaign falling behind

David Luessen / The Sun Michael Schwarz, Jamestown, wears cold-weather gear as he rings the bell for the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign outside of Walmart in jamestown.

Michael Schwarz said, in a voice muffled by a facemask, that he began ringing the bell for the Salvation Army's Red Kettle Campaign the day after Thanksgiving.

Schwarz was bundled up from head to toe as he rang the bell outside of Walmart — a post he volunteered for — on Wednesday afternoon.

"My fingers are numb," the Jamestown man said, displaying the thick gloves he wore. "I don't have any feeling in my fingers."

Salvation Army Lt. Mitch Brecto said donations to the campaign have been lagging this year, and they have a "considerable ways to go" to get from the current $52,000 to the end-of-the-month goal of $156,000.

"This Saturday we have an anonymous donor that's going to match donations up to $4,000 for the day, so we're looking forward to that; hopefully that puts a little life into it," Brecto said.

Brecto said progress toward the campaign goal is slow compared to this time last year, which in turn was slow compared to the year before. Last year the campaign was able to reach its goal of $147,000 due to a $25,000 match from an anonymous donor.

"We don't have that (match) this year," Brecto said. "We're still looking for individuals that'll match a kettle or a day to help bring in other donations. Currently I haven't had any matches close to the caliber of last year; we're working on a few."

Brecto said there were many factors that could explain why donations are down. The campaign began with a handful of bell ringers in the Buffalo Mall on the day before Thanksgiving before officially opening on the following Saturday. Brecto said the late start to the campaign and the cold weather that followed kept a lot of people away from the Salvation Army's five locations at the Park Plaza and Buffalo malls, Walmart, Home of Economy and Coborn's (now Cash Wise).

Another factor is that people more often use credit or debit cards when they shop and are carrying less and less and cash. Brecto said there are mobile credit card scanners the Salvation Army could use, but they are pricey and require monthly service for the Internet.

"A lot of people are leery to give to them (credit card scanners) because they're mobile, but it is totally secure," he said. "With our cold climate, sometimes the machine doesn't work, and you still need a person at the stand ... people like the personal contact. Usually a kettle that's just sitting there, no one will donate to."

Brecto said there are still more than 600 hours of bell-ringing duty available from the total 2,133 needed to fill out the campaign. Shifts are available at all five locations.

Bill Wills, a volunteer bell ringer at the Buffalo Mall on Wednesday, drove in from Streeter to help out the Salvation Army, which services all of Stutsman County. Wills said he used to be a bell ringer when he lived in Bismarck but Wednesday was his first shift in Jamestown. Wills said the midafternoon traffic at the mall was a little slow but still had a few donations and expected it to pick up before dinner time. He said he was likely to pick up more shifts, but he'd prefer to stay inside if he could, due to health issues.

" I walk with a cane now; I can stand for a while if I have to," Wills said.

At the other end of the mall, Elaine Falck said she had thought about ringing the bell for a while, and Wednesday was her first-ever shift.

"It's kind of slow but I think people have been generous," she said. "A lot of people stop, and I've been impressed — some of them have their children put the money in which teaches them generosity and the spirit of giving."

Brecto said people wishing to volunteer can stop by the Salvation Army office at 320 1st Ave. N, Jamestown, or call 252-0290. By registering online at http://salvationarmynorth.org/community/jamestown/community-pages/volunt..., potential bell ringers can sign up and search for open shifts by date. Donations can also be made online at salvationarmynorth.org/community/Jamestown.

"We're just looking for able-bodied people to especially ring outside for us," he said. "... and we're looking for individuals and businesses that could match a kettle, too."