BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW-TV) — The Salvation Army's "Red Kettle Campaign" usually raises about a half-million dollars each holiday season which supports Buffalo-area programs for needy families and homeless individuals.
That was before the pandemic.
This year, some retailers have told the Salvation Army that the red kettles are not welcome because of virus concerns. "We are probably down a good half to one-third of what we would normally do," said Laurie Krajna, development director for the WNY region.
Tops supermarkets are supportive of the effort and is allowing both kettles and volunteers to use its lobbies.
There are some other retailers who will allow the kettles but only without volunteers. In those cases, the Salvation Army has gotten permission from local celebrities, like Jim Kelly and the Buffalo Bills, to place life-size cutouts at the kettles in order to get the public's attention.
The Salvation Army is expecting a four to five times increase in need because of people who experienced unemployment and loss of housing during the pandemic.
Toys are another complication.
Because of virus concerns and the fact that many people are working remotely, organizations like M&T Bank are encouraging people to take part in a 'virtual toy collection' by purchasing toys at three local businesses that will be directed to the Salvation Army.
Those stores are Clayton's Toys in Williamsville, The Treehouse Toy Store in Buffalo, and The Toy Loft in East Aurora.
Donated toys must still be placed into quarantine for several days before being sorted or distributed.
The Salvation Army is expecting to distribute toys to 1,000 needy families this year. A big change is families applying for the program must do it online as in-person applications are not being taken for safety reasons.
Using the choices made with the online form, toys will be bagged for the families and placed into another quarantine before being distributed in a drive-through manner in December.
While the Salvation Army needs donations of food, toys, and money, it also needs more volunteers in the Buffalo region as many people, who would normally help, are worried about the coronavirus.
For people wishing to make a donation to one of the red kettles without using cash; signs posted with the kettles allow people to use Google Pay or Apple Pay to make a donation by swiping your cell phone over the sign.