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Pandemic forces Salvation Army to start holiday fundraiser early

Payne Horning
WRVO News (file photo)

For the first time in more than 100 years, the annual Salvation Army holiday fundraiser is getting underway early. Officials with the charitable organization say the pandemic is stretching its resources and services thin.

Sarah Miller-Locke, director of Empire State Division of the Salvation Army, said talk about the holiday campaign usually doesn't start until after Halloween, but like with so many other things in 2020, this year is different.

"Overall, we’re seeing a 150 percent increase in the number of people we’re serving," Miller-Locke said. "So last year across the state, Salvation Army served about 4.3 million meals for 12 months and since Covid-19 we’ve already served 5.4 million meals in just six months and we don’t really see that declining."

The Salvation Army captains for Onondaga and Oswego counties say they served double the amount of people in 2020 as they have in previous years. For example, annual service levels in Onondaga County are 40,000 people, but they have already helped 47,000 this year.

The pandemic has also forced local chapters to forego some in-person fundraisers and decrease the number of volunteers they can have at any one time. And to make matters worse, many retail stores that have partnered with the Salvation Army in the past like JC Penny's are closing as more people shop online.

Officials with the organization hope that this early start to the campaign combined with new virtual events and online giving options will help them "rescue Christmas."

"It's definitely a perfect storm with the increased need, stores starting to close, and the donations potentially being fewer, which is why we’re really extending this campaign to make sure we are able to raise the funds and serve our community," Miller-Locke said. 

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.