A year ago, bells were ringing outside City Market and all was jolly as Durango residents knew that every dollar they put into the Salvation Army kettle would stay in the community, donated to local nonprofits.
Then came spring, and with it, representatives from the Salvation Army’s corporate offices in Denver who announced plans to take the Durango chapter from an entirely volunteer-led effort to a service center with an office staffed by a paid employee.
Local board member Sweetie Marbury, who is also Durango’s mayor, called for a boycott of the charity for making a change that would create overhead expenses and allegedly take local dollars away from the region. Several board members resigned in protest, including Marbury.
“All these years, the money raised in La Plata County stayed here,” Marbury said in May. “And now, they’re going to take our money and do what they want.”
Fast-forward seven months, and the bells are ringing again, residents are stuffing the kettles and a service center is operational in Durango. The trouble is that the upheaval from seven months ago has made it hard for the nonprofit to enlist bell-ringing volunteers, said Michelle Brown, chairwoman of the board for the Salvation Army in Durango.
“We still have a significant number of bell-ringers, but it’s been a challenge,” Brown said.
It is true that the Salvation Army in Durango once operated as a volunteer-run chapter, and all money raised was donated to local nonprofits, with little to no overhead. Some of that changed earlier this year when the Salvation Army hired an employee to provide direct services to those in need, said Rachael Fowler, a spokeswoman with the Salvation Army in Denver.
The kettle drive raises an average of $100,000,
Now, 90 percent of the money raised in La Plata County is used for direct services provided by the Salvation Army, such as rent and utility assistance, transportation vouchers, homelessness prevention and basic emergency services, Fowler said. Ten percent of the money goes to regional offices for administrative support and training. A small percentage of money raised still supports at least one local nonprofit.
While not much has changed in the financial side of things, the way the Salvation Army operates has been jarring for some.
“Transition is always difficult; there are always people who don’t want to see it happen,” Brown said. “We were very effective as an all-volunteer board. I do think we’ll be able to expand services once the transition is completed.”
Deb Duncan, a previous board member who resigned earlier this year, said she doesn’t plan to return to the revamped organization. And Marbury said she has no plans to volunteer as a bell-ringer this year. She declined to comment further.
Duncan said her problem with the Salvation Army is on a philosophical level. It’s not that she doesn’t like the Salvation Army or the work it does, she just disagrees with how it is doing it.
“It’s just that we felt that we have a wonderful setup with the board that we had and the volunteers,” Duncan said. “My concern is ... if you have $100,000 and ‘X’ goes to a salary in an office, then it can’t go to people who are in crisis situations or the Boys and Girls Club. I’m wishing them well. I hope it works.”
Brown said she thinks the change is good for the Salvation Army. Running the organization locally is a lot of work – a responsibility that is now overseen by a paid employee, Carla Wood. Wood’s salary will be funded this year by corporate money, not by local dollars, Brown said.
The change will also help with the growing population in La Plata County. Having a full-time employee means anyone who needs help can get it without delay. A full-time employee can serve people more consistently than a volunteer board can, Brown said.
Anyone interested in becoming a bell-ringer, or anyone with community service hours to obtain, can contact the Salvation Army and sign up to be a bell-ringer at the City Market or Walmart locations. Corporate sponsorships are also available for businesses that want to match donations in a bucket for a day, Brown said.