Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign is falling short of its goal due to COVID-19

Stop. Listen.

Notice something missing as you walk into the mall or a grocery store?

There’s a good chance you won’t hear bells ringing.

That’s because the coronavirus pandemic forced the Salvation Army to drastically reduce its number of bell ringers across the metro area, and now the charity finds itself falling fall short of its Christmas budget goals as Dec. 25 approaches.

“Silver bells… it’s not just a song,” said Maj. Richard Pease of the Salvation Army in metro Denver. “It’s part of the Christmas tradition.”

How to help

To donate to the virtual Red Kettle Campaign, please visit

On an average day in a normal Christmas season, the Salvation Army deploys about 160 bell ringers across the Denver area as part of its annual Red Kettle Campaign, he said. This year, an average of 75 are ringing each day, although that number can drop if volunteers are sick or decide they don’t want to risk illness.

Already, the Red Kettle campaign is falling short of its $850,000 goal — one that already was lower than in previous years due to the pandemic. As of Monday, $540,000 has been raised, said Rachael Fowler, a Salvation Army spokeswoman.

Along with fewer volunteers, there are fewer stores available to set up outside and fewer shoppers to drop change into the kettles, Fowler said. And people are carrying less cash during the pandemic.

The shortfall comes at a terrible time. Along with providing Christmas presents to needy families, the Salvation Army also helps people who are struggling to pay for or find housing. And this year the Salvation Army is preparing for a deluge of requests for housing assistance in January because a new stimulus package that will bring more help to the unemployed won’t kick in for several more weeks.

“Fundraising is down and the need is up and that puts us in a position where we are struggling a bit,” Pease said.

The Salvation Army established a virtual Red Kettle Campaign, and as of Dec. 21, it has raised a little more than half of its $20,000 goal. When someone donates, a bell rings online in an attempt to replace the in-person ringers who are such a holiday icon.

Some bell-ringing traditions continued, though.

On Tuesday, the Salvation Army announced that mystery donors once again dropped gold South African Krugerrands into kettles in Fort Collins and Highlands Ranch. The mystery donations have been happening in both towns for years. This year, the gold coins were wrapped in encouraging notes. A gold Krugerrand is worth almost $2,000, according to Monex, an online site that tracks the value of precious metals.

Another tradition moved online.

For 65 years, Merrill Fie and his family have rung bells for the Salvation Army at Christmas. This year, though, the 92-year-old Fie and his extended family missed their annual date on Denver’s 16th Street Mall, where he and his wife, Dorie Fie, are joined by their daughters, grandchildren, their spouses and longtime friends to raise money.

“Frankly it isn’t Christmas until you’re ringing bells,” Fie said. “We have fun on the Fie bell-ringing day. It’s been rewarding for 65 years.”

This year, the Fie family is attempting to raise $100,000 through an online campaign. They’re emailing friends asking them to donate and on Tuesday had surpassed their goal. And while raising money online is still rewarding, it’s just not as fun as being on the mall, he said.

“We were disappointed we couldn’t do it,” Fie said. “But we’ll be back in force in the coming year.”

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