The recent warm spell may have been a surprise, but soon barbecue grills will give way to red kettles.
The Butler Salvation Army begins its annual bell-ringing fundraising effort Friday.
Capts. Dave and Darlene Means, administrators and pastors of the Butler Salvation Army, said the traditional red kettles with their accompanying bell ringers will be in place at eight locations throughout the county for a campaign that will continue until Christmas Eve.
But with the COVID-19 pandemic still moving through the population, there will be a few changes this year.
“We'll be following protocols. The bell ringers will have to mask. A shield just doesn't work,” Darlene Means said.
“And the bell ringers aren't allowed to touch any money this year. People will have to put it in the kettle themselves,” she said.
In addition, bell ringers will have to remain at least 6 feet away from the kettle and periodically wipe down the kettle stand with sanitizer.
The pandemic has also affected the kettle campaign in another way. It has created a coin shortage that could diminish donations.
However, Dave Means said this year the campaign, which has been dubbed “Rescue Christmas,” offers potential givers more ways to make a donation than just putting money in the kettle.
Each kettle stand this year will come equipped with a sign with a QR code.
Donors can scan the code with their phones and make a donation via gpay or applepay.
Donors can also text “BUTLERSA' to 7177 or visit the website salvationarmywpa.org/butler.
However the money is received, the Meanses say all money raised in Butler County will stay in the county to meet residents' needs.
Using the QR code, said Dave Means, “they can put in the amount and it will come directly to our ZIP code, 16001.”
Darlene Means said, “The Butler Salvation Army will also have what we call counter kettles. Businesses can place these on their counters to collect money.”
And the Salvation Army is offering sponsorship opportunities for businesses and organizations.
For example, a donation of $5,000 will get the donor's logo prominently displayed on a Salvation Army kettle for five weeks.
Lesser amounts will result in a shorter time for a donor logo to be displayed.
But rest assured, they said, the traditional bell ringers and red kettles will be in place around the county come Friday.
On Friday, the sound of the Salvation Army bell will be heard at Rural King, Boscov's at Butler's Clearview Mall, the Seven Fields Giant Eagle, the Butler Walmart and Sam's Club, and the Cranberry Township Walmart.
Many of the people manning the kettle stands are old hands.
“We've had quite a few (who) have been doing it for years,” Dave Means said. “We'll have a couple of new ones this year. We won't have a shortage of bell ringers.”
Qualifications to man the kettle are simply the willingness to do it and to be in relatively good health to stand through a six-hour shift.
Bell ringers get a stipend for their work.
“Our kettle goal for this year is $80,000,” David Means said. “We shouldn't have a problem meeting that goal.”
His confidence could be due to the fact that the 2019 kettle campaign raised $91,000 to $92,000.
Dave Means said the money in the kettle campaign helps to provide year-round programs and social services such as the Butler Salvation Army's weekly food cupboard and Monday-through-Friday lunches.
Pandemic-inspired layoffs have increased the need for mortgage, utility and rental assistance.
And the Salvation Army tries to fill the Christmas wishes of between 500 and 600 children and senior citizens through its Angel Tree program.
Children and senior citizens who qualify for the program write down their clothing sizes and toy wishes.
Children under age 12 can receive free toys, clothes, books, hats and gloves. Senior citizen requests can include clothes, bedding and personal hygiene products.
All of this information is then transferred to paper “angels” along with the recipient's age, gender and first name.
The trees with these paper angels will be placed in high-traffic areas during the holiday season. This year, the Butler Salvation Army will place trees in Walmart and Boscov's in Butler.
The recipient's name will be selected by shoppers, who will then purchase any or all of the items listed. Many businesses often contribute to the program as well.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Darlene Means said, unlike the past when applicants came to the Salvation Army at 313 W. Cunningham St., this year people need to call in to complete an application and then schedule an in-person verification interview.
The telephone number to call for a phone application is 724-287-5532.
The deadline for Angel Tree applications is Friday.
Some county businesses and groups, such as Slippery Rock University and the Butler Fire Department, run their own Angel Tree programs.
Money from the kettle campaign goes to fulfilling the wishes of some of those whose Angel Tree tags have gone unclaimed.
The Meanses are making an appeal for people to donate by cash, PayPal, text or Angel Tree tag.
“Twenty-five dollars can buy a child's toy, $50 can feed a family of six with a holiday meal,” Darlene Means said.