By Chris Russell
The sound of the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle bells ringing can be heard near store sidewalks from Wal-Mart to Mayfaire Town Center. And whether your Pavlov reaction is to smile, reach in your wallet and add money to the kettle, or to do a side-step around, it is one of the most memorable sounds of “the giving season.”
There are approximately 35 Red Kettles stationed throughout the Wilmington area. The local branch of the Salvation Army helps feed and shelter the homeless in a five-county region. The number one item bought with donations is food or gift cards for food.
“My grocery bill for food for Christmas is $87,000,”said Major Richard Watts with the Salvation Army in Wilmington. He explained they used to buy bulk food items to give away but storage and freshness became an issue. He said it is healthier and fresher to give grocery store gift cards and allow people to buy fresh food.
He cited an example of a really good deal they got on cabbage but a heat wave came and ruined the produce. He said, “I’ve changed a lot of smelly diapers, but there is nothing quite like the smell of spoiled cabbage.”
Major Watts said the Salvation Army has been sheltering people since 1901 in this region.
“We’ve had almost every kind of shelter you can imagine … men’s, women’s, we have a men and women shelter now with plans to expand to include families,” Watts said. The Salvation Army Center of Hope night shelter at 820 Second St. can house 52 residents; more could be housed on the floor in case of emergencies.
He gave an example of our mobile society: a family can be traveling in their old mini-van and it dies, and suddenly they are homeless. Transition, emergencies and circumstances all affect the fluctuating homeless count, Watts said. A point-in-time spreadsheet dated Jan. 28, 2015 for New Hanover County reported 353 homeless.
Aside from preparing hot meals for the needy, giving food cards, and housing the homeless, the Salvation Army helps make Christmas brighter for families who cannot afford toys. Many community partners join in the effort to help every child have a toy at Christmas. WECT and Fox Wilmington just finished a Holiday Smiles Toy Drive to benefit the Salvation Army clients, but the need does not end at Christmas, Watts said.
The Red Kettles and the Salvation Army bell ringers will be collecting donations at least through noon of Christmas Eve, weather depending. Donations given at that time help cover expenses that do not hit until January. To learn more about the area Salvation Army, see: salvationarmycarolinas.org/wilmington.