No change in your pocket? That's no reason to walk past a Salvation Army red kettle this year without making a donation to help feed, clothe and shelter the needy.
El Paso County is the first Salvation Army chapter in the United States to test the use of debit and credit cards at five of the 83 locations where bell ringers are encouraging shoppers to open their wallets.
"It's a response to the way in which the public spends money - people are using cash less and plastic more," said Mike Smith, director of kettle development for the local Salvation Army chapter.
The idea of mixing technology and tradition is receiving mixed reviews. Shopper Tawny Amati said she doesn't think there's anything wrong with organizations using innovative techniques to raise funds.
"Nobody carries cash anymore; we're a credit card society," she said Wednesday. "I've had it happen to me before, where I wanted to donate but didn't have any cash."
But Salvation Army bell ringer Glen Casteel prefers the "old-fashioned way" of plunking a handful of change into the kettle. "It just seems more personal that way," he said.
Whether people favor cash or plastic, the Salvation Army just hopes they'll give. The local chapter's annual fundraising drive kicked off Wednesday with a goal of raising $600,000 to support the city's only 24/7 homeless shelter and programs that provide free meals, plus help with utilities and rent. The goal is about 10 percent more than last year's total of $557,000, which Smith acknowledges will be a challenge in a bad economy.
But the need is greater this year, as the slow economy has pushed up demand for services by 25 percent and decreased donations by 10 percent, Smith said.
"We're seeing people from middle-class neighborhoods, who didn't used to need help, now needing food, rent and utility assistance to get back on their feet," he said.
The local Salvation Army relies on the red kettle drive for the majority of its funding, Smith said.
The locations at which debit and credit cards will be accepted will change throughout the campaign, which runs till 6 p.m. Dec. 24. Three start-up locations include Sam's Club at 1850 E. Woodmen Road, Wal-Mart at Woodmen Road and Powers Boulevard and Macy's at The Citadel.
U.S. Bank is sponsoring the machines to ensure secure transactions, Smith said.
The organization still needs more than a thousand volunteers to ring bells at kettle locations, Smith said. The organization has recruited 1,600 bell ringers, but wants to reach 3,000.
"It costs us $10 per hour per person if we have to hire bell ringers through temp staffing," he said. "When we get volunteers, it's an automatic $10-an-hour donation they're making."
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MORE INFORMATIONTo volunteer to be a Salvation Army bell ringer or for red kettle information, contact Mike Smith at 884-1042, or go to www.tsacs.org