The Salvation Army’s organizational changes in recent years have taken a toll on donations and the number of willing volunteers to ring bells outside grocery stores after many residents in Durango said they would rather give their money to local nonprofits.
For years, The Salvation Army’s bell-ringing campaign during the holiday season, in which people ring bells alongside red kettles outside local businesses, was carried out entirely by volunteers.
The campaign raised an average of $100,000, entirely disbursed to local nonprofits, such as the La Plata County Boys & Girls Club, Housing Solutions for the Southwest and Manna, Durango’s soup kitchen.
“I was pleased I could tell people that gave to Salvation Army that all the money stays here,” Ken Leroy, who sat on the local chapter’s board of directors, said in May 2018. “That hit a chord with people.”
But Leroy and several other board members resigned in protest after representatives of The Salvation Army in Denver announced the local chapter would shift from a volunteer effort to a “service center” model with an office staffed by a paid employee.
Deb Duncan, a board member who resigned, said money raised in Durango would not stay local and instead would be used for costs such as the staff member’s salary and office space.
“It’s just that we felt that we have a wonderful setup with the board that we had and the volunteers,” Duncan said previously. “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 & Girls Club.”
Sweetie Marbury, a former Durango city councilor who also resigned from the board, said at the time she would no longer ring bells during the holidays. She also encouraged residents to boycott The Salvation Army and donate to other local nonprofits.
“It’s so sad. But I’ll put my money and energy somewhere else,” she said.
According to The Salvation Army, donations fell along with the decline in volunteers.
Before the staff change, about 200 volunteer bell-ringers raised about $100,000 each holiday season.
In 2018, however, only 100 people volunteered, and they raised only $76,000.
“We still have a significant number of bell-ringers, but it’s been a challenge,” Michelle Brown, chairwoman of the board for The Salvation Army in Durango, said last year.
Brown did not return multiple requests seeking comment for this story.
Carla Wood, The Salvation Army’s staff member in Durango, said the number of volunteers this year also was low.
“It has had an impact,” Wood said of the transition. “But with the services we’re providing, we’re trying to show the community that having a full-time person in the office here is definitely something that is worth it.”
The Salvation Army maintains that 90% of the money raised in La Plata County is used for direct services such as rent and utility assistance, transportation vouchers, homelessness prevention and basic emergency services. Ten percent of the money goes to regional offices for administrative support and training.
The nonprofit, which is an international organization, is an evangelical part of the universal Christian Church.
Rachael Fowler, a spokeswoman for The Salvation Army in Denver, said about $130,000 was spent in La Plata County from Oct. 1, 2018, to September for services, not including administrative costs.
“Money raised and donated to our red kettles in La Plata County stays in the area and funds services that help residents through case management, rental and utility assistance, transportation assistance, homelessness prevention and basic emergency services,” she said. “One of the biggest services The Salvation Army helps with is car repairs.”
Wood said in the past year, she’s helped 656 people with things such as gas vouchers, food cards, bus tokens and even getting people to Denver for medical procedures.
“There’s a huge need,” she said. “It’s an eight-hour-a-day job.”
Wood said The Salvation Army hopes its work alone gets its numbers back up.
“There is a huge need in our community at this time,” she said. “We have quite a few nonprofits here, and we’re all trying to help people as much as we can.”