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Salvation Army donations down in Porter County, Gary

Katie Jones center drops donatiinSalvatiArmy red kettle as she her husbDuane leave store Portage Wednesday Dec. 19 2012. Bell ringer

Katie Jones, center, drops a donation into the Salvation Army red kettle as she and her husband Duane leave a store in Portage Wednesday Dec. 19, 2012. Bell ringer Ron Jackson looks on at right. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 22, 2013 6:21AM



The red kettles outside Porter County merchants this year are light, and that’s threatening the services offered by the Salvation Army of Porter County for the coming year.

While Lake County’s Red Kettle Christmas Campaign is going better overall, officials there said donations are down in Gary, which could force cuts there as well.

The situation in Porter County is more dire. The kettles and a mail-in fundraising drive are budgeted to bring in $245,000 for 2013, which is $5,000 more than last year’s goal, said Major Jon Welch.

So far, the two campaigns have raised less than $145,000, at a time when the need for services provided by the agency, including a food pantry and heating assistance, are going up. Demand on the food pantry is up 600 percent since the spring of 2011.

The mail campaign continues until the end of January, Welch said, but the bell ringers stop ringing on Christmas Eve.

“Sometimes it has been pretty rough, though it’s a little bit more of a difference compared to previous years,” Welch said.

Even a longer holiday season —Thanksgiving was early this year — isn’t helping, and Welch isn’t sure why, though he suspects it could be the economy. When the budget has fallen short by a few thousand dollars, the agency has been able to adjust.

“But if it’s a major shortage, we have to do quite a few drastic cuts that make a difference for a lot of people,” he said, adding the nonprofit serves between 30,000 and 35,000 people a year.

In Lake County, the Salvation Army set a fundraising goal for the kettles and mail-in at $1.14 million, up by $90,000 from last year.

The agency is 2 percent ahead on its mail appeal, and around 7 percent ahead on the kettle drive.

“We’re right now at about 60 percent toward our goal,” said Major Russ Sjogren.

The exception is Gary, where kettle donations are down $15,000 from last year. While mail-in donations are allocated between the agency’s three corps, in East Chicago, Gary and Hammond/Munster, kettle donations remain in the corps where they are collected.

That means Gary could have to revise its budget, find other resources, or cut its budget to account for the drop in donations, Sjogren said.

“They were up last year over the year before,” and have seen increases over time, he said, “so this year, it’s kind of an anomaly for them.”

Overall, though, Sjogren said he feels good about how collections are going, which is positive news for the 60,000 people the Salvation Army serves in Lake County each year.

He, too, has seen the need increase, with past donors showing up for assistance, and a 45 percent bump up in demand for the social services offered by his agency between 2010 and 2011.

Sjogren also thinks the economy may be hurting the fundraising campaign in Porter County.

“I think people are really cautious about how they spend their money,” he said. “They’re hanging on to more of it for themselves because they don’t know what the future will bring.”

Welch, in Porter County, wondered how his agency would adjust for a budget shortfall that could be tens of thousands of dollars.

“It’s a concern, but sometimes you almost have to surrender to God and let him provide for people,” Welch said, adding God usually does.



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