Will the bells go silent?

Published 8:56 pm Saturday, November 8, 2008

Things are looking a little grim right now at the Salvation Army offices in Suffolk.

With just a little more than a month to go before Christmas, the traditional collections that support the organization’s holiday missions are all sharply down, and Major Cal Clatterbuck is a little worried.

There are bears and dolls to be dressed, stockings to be filled, Angel Trees awaiting sponsors and, of course, the ubiquitous kettles waiting to be filled.

Email newsletter signup

With the economy in such an unsettled state, none of those missions is reaching its goal, and Clatterbuck, the corps officer in Suffolk, is hoping that a publicity push will get the community more involved in helping to make Christmas merry for poor children in Suffolk and Western Tidewater.

“I’m a little bit concerned about it,” he said Friday in his office at the Suffolk Salvation Army building. “I really think that people will do something if they know there’s a need.”

And the need is certainly great.

The group has a goal of raising $90,000 between now and Dec. 24, and it is already working with several handicaps.

Some managers have told him his bell-ringers cannot stand outside their stores until after Thanksgiving, which occurs late this year. Seven locations that sponsored Angel Trees in the past have said they will not do it this year. And only three community organizations have stepped up and offered to help with bell-ringing duties, meaning he might have to pay people to collect the donations that provide the basis of most of the group’s Christmas missions.

There are still more than 2,000 applicants without sponsors in the Angel Tree program, he said. Only 10 businesses have committed to putting up the trees, compared to 20 last year.

The Angel Tree program gives people a chance to buy clothes and necessities for registered children, returning those gifts to the Salvation Army for distribution.

But children want toys at Christmas, as well, and the group has programs to help those wishes come true. Hundreds of bears and dolls await adoption by people willing to make clothes and dress them before returning them to the Salvation Army office for distribution to needy children. And stockings are ready to be filled with toys and non-perishable goods.

“We still have a load of them in there to give out,” he said, pointing to the area where the bears, dolls and stockings are kept waiting to be dressed and filled. “We want these kids to have these stockings … but people are just not coming forward.”

Clatterbuck said he understands the tenuous situation that people find themselves in this year, and he said it has manifested itself in donations that are down “maybe 15 percent” for the entire year.

Still, the Salvation Army’s Christmas drive represents the group’s primary fundraising effort. The money raised during November and December is the primary means of support for the Christmas programs, and in a good year, some of it rolls over and helps support the group’s other missions.

“If we don’t make our goal, it makes it very hard to manage through the year,” he explained.

The economy seems to be the prime culprit, he said, turning what is supposed to be a time of peace on earth and goodwill toward all into “a time of worry and frustration.”

Clatterbuck said he still holds out hope that some of Western Tidewater’s more than 120 clubs and civic organizations will step up and help out with the Salvation Army’s efforts, whether by agreeing to ring the bells and collect donations, by sponsoring Angel Trees or by making a project of dressing bears or dolls or filling stockings.

“A lot of (the children) will not have a good Christmas unless we make it happen,” he said. “And we can’t make it happen unless people help us to do that.”

To learn more about how you can help, call the Salvation Army at 539-5201.