PORTLAND – A bell ringer standing next to a red kettle and a Salvation Army sign has become a symbol of the season of giving, but this year fewer people in the Portland area are putting cash in the kettle.

The Salvation Army’s Portland Corps is aiming to raise $160,000 from its 2012 kettle campaign. But with less than two weeks left in the year, the campaign has brought in less than half that amount, a little more than $75,000, said Maj. Steve Ditmer.

In 2011, when the goal was a more modest $150,000, the Salvation Army took in $167,852.

Ditmer explained the situation Tuesday during a tour of the Salvation Army facility at 297 Cumberland Ave., where needy people waited to collect Christmas assistance — parcels with gifts, clothes and food, and larger packages for those in greater need.

The gym floor in the basement was covered with bags and gifts, each bearing a numbered label corresponding to a family.

Volunteers buzzed between the gym and a storeroom, finding the right-sized pajamas for a family with a toddler or a puzzle suited for the older children of another family.

As of Tuesday, the Salvation Army had approved 877 applications for families with a total of 3,070 children. And applications are still coming in and being approved, Ditmer said. The red kettle campaign helps to support the effort and other Salvation Army operations.

The Salvation Army runs multiple campaigns at the same time — fundraisers to pay the bottom line, gift and clothes drives to meet specific needs, and special drives in which a company or organization “adopts” a particularly needy family and provides for that family, Ditmer said.

Some campaigns have been very successful this year, but the most recognizable drive, the red kettle campaign, has faltered.

Ditmer said an effort on the Salvation Army’s website has done better this year than last year, as has a mail campaign targeting specific donors.

But those successes don’t entirely offset the anticipated shortfall from the kettle campaign, “one of our largest fundraisers of the year,” Ditmer said.

Ditmer, who moved to Portland in July to lead the city’s Salvation Army corps, said he expects to end the year with about $35,000 less than budgeted.

The problems have included turnover in staff positions, including his own, and a change in the economy.

People tend to pay for things with debit and credit cards these days, and the iconic red kettles don’t have card swipe machines.

“The reality is that people don’t carry the same cash anymore,” Ditmer said.

He directs people who prefer to donate by card to the Salvation Army’s website: http://www.onlineredkettle.org/SAPortlandME.

If the kettle campaign falters, he said, the Salvation Army will have to determine whether other fundraising campaigns can make up the difference, whether it will tap its reserves, and whether it will ask past donors for even more.

“I am absolutely blown away by the giving spirit in the Portland community,” Ditmer said. But “the philanthropy dollar only goes so far. Everyone’s vying for the same dollar.”


Staff Writer Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at:

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