Donations down but spirits up for Salvation Army’s red kettle campaign

Some people make last-minute shopping a holiday tradition.

Rich and Brenda Lucas also head to the mall on Christmas Eve. But they don’t bother going inside.

Instead, the State College couple and their children instead take a turn manning the iconic red kettle, ringing the bell that calls out in the spirit of giving.

“We’ve been doing this for years; it’s our Christmas tradition,” Rich Lucas said around noon Tuesday as snow began to fall, sending shoppers leaving the Nittany Mall scurrying to their cars.

“It’s a way to give back,” he said. “It’s important.”

The Salvation Army certainly thinks so. The Red Kettle Campaign is the main annual fundraiser for the organization, which uses the money to ensure local families and children have adequate food and shelter, among other things.

“We do the most good with the money that comes in,” said Steve Williams, regional manager for the local Salvation Army branch.

But this year, the group might have to do more with less.

The drive was set to end at 1 p.m. Tuesday and, while final numbers were not yet available, Williams said the total could be as much as $15,000 less than what was raised just a year ago.

“A lots of factors go into that,” he said. “It was a shortened shopping season. There were weather issues this year — a snowstorm then an ice storm and then cold.”

Donations don’t have to stop at Christmas, though. Williams said the group accepts money throughout the year to help fulfill its mission.

Some of the money goes toward the Angel Tree program, which this year provided toys, clothes and food to more than 400 children.

“This way everybody has at least one good meal,” Williams said. “The folks otherwise might make a choice between buying food or Christmas presents, paying for heat and filling up the car.”

Williams said 90 percent of the money collected by the local chapter stays in Centre County.

“Even though the funds are down, people still give,” he said. “That’s all we can ask — give what they can and we’ll do the most good with it.”

Rich Lucas was holding out hope for a big push on Christmas Eve. Shoppers were flooding stores, and Lucas said many have been giving.

“We’ve actually had a couple people say when they were giving money, ‘We hear you are behind,’ ” he said. “They were generous.”