Salvation Army red kettles get ousted from area retailers

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Bells won’t be ringing in front of Albertson’s and Target this year. Both companies have nixed the Salvation Army holiday red kettle program, which means an 18-to-20 percent loss of revenue for the local organization, said Tim Leigh, Salvation Army advisory board member. “The kettle campaign is our biggest fundraiser of the year,” he said.

The red kettle money supports several year-round programs that the Salvation Army sponsors in Colorado Springs. The Salvation Army is a 135-year-old worldwide evangelical based organization, and each chapter in the United States is locally funded and operated.

“It’s the greatest story never told,” Leigh said. London Minister William Booth started the Salvation Army in 1865. Booth wanted to take his message of Christianity to the streets where he could reach the poor and the homeless. By the 1900s, the Army had officers in 36 countries. During World War II, the Army operated 3,000 service units for U.S. soldiers. That led to the creation of the USO (United Service Organizations). Today, the Salvation Army has a presence in more than 106 nations. The Army commands a strong presence locally with its many programs and centers that provide relief and emergency services for El Paso County residents in need. The Army runs the New Hope Center, the former Red Cross Shelter, which furnishes immediate housing for the homeless and programs to help them get back on their feet.

The Army also provides holiday and Thanksgiving dinners and sponsors a mobile cantina that sets up Monday through Friday evenings in the Department of Social Services parking lot. “The mobile food unit flies under the radar screen,” Leigh said. “But there is no reason for anyone to be hungry in this town.”

The Army also manages two low-income senior apartment buildings, the Red Shield Community Center for youth and an alcohol rehabilitation center that is paid for entirely by revenue from sales at the Salvation Army stores. There are currently three Salvation Army stores; however, Leigh said the Army is consolidating the stores into a central location at Circle Drive and Platte Avenue in about 90 days.

Major Joe Hoogstedt heads the Springs Salvation Army, which has operated locally for about 115 years. “We provide a complete continuum of care to people whose lives are in crisis,” Hoogstedt said. Included on their campus at 908 Yuma St. is a chapel, the Army’s senior housing and youth center and the alcohol rehabilitation center.

The campus also is home to the Harbor House, a drug treatment program for hardcore addicts (in collaboration with the Pikes Peak Mental Health Center and Penrose/St. Francis) and the Bridge House, a transitional housing program for a maximum of eight men who have stayed clean and sober for at least six months.

There are 18 transitional housing units designated for the homeless on the campus. Hoogstedt said the tenants initially have free housing, and, throughout their maximum two-year stay, assume more of the living costs. “Many of these people are escaping abuse situations and some have just run into hard times,” he said. “Our first contact with them may be at the New Hope Center. At the end of their stay with us, they find themselves in their own place with gainful employment.”

The Salvation Army relies on store sales, grants and fundraising projects to maintain its programs, Hoogstedt said. “The loss of the red kettle program at Albertsons and Target equates to about $45,000, and we are really going to have to beat the bushes to make this up,” he said.

Target Corp. spokesperson Carolyn Booker released a statement regarding the company’s decision to pull out of the red kettle program. “Like many nationwide retailers, Target Corporation has a long-standing ‘no solicitation policy’ that must consistently be applied across all of its stores. We receive an increasing number of solicitation inquiries from nonprofit organizations each year and determined that if we continue to allow the Salvation Army to solicit, then it opens the door to other groups that wish to solicit our guests. We communicated this decision to Salvation Army in January.”

Jeff Stroh, Safeway spokesman, said his company looks at each situation. “We want to be a part of the community,” Stroh said. “Anyone can ask to be at our doors. Salvation Army is one organization we welcome and endorse.” Stroh said Safeway has two stores in the county – one in Falcon and one in Woodland Park – that are “non-solicitation” stores. “In lieu of that, we give several thousands of dollars per year to specific local organizations.”

Numerous phone calls to an Albertson’s spokesman were never returned.

A non-scientific CSBJ on-the-street poll indicated a 50/50 split between people who aren’t bothered by retail store solicitors and those who feel intimidated or coerced.

Meanwhile, the Salvation Army is beating those bushes to find alternative ways to make up the $45,000 deficit created by the no-kettle mandate at Target and Albertson’s. And the Army is asking for help from community leaders.

Leigh, of Hoff & Leigh Inc. – one of the area’s largest commercial real estate firms – is rallying his colleagues, business associates and government officials to participate in a “carry-your-own” red kettle program. “We are asking civic-minded people like Mayor Lionel Rivera and business leaders to carry a kettle for two weeks,” Leigh said. The red kettle carriers will bring whatever money they’ve mustered to a November 15 red kettle season kick-off breakfast at the Antlers Hilton.

“If people don’t want to carry the red kettles, they can just donate or buy a table at the breakfast,” Leigh said. “This is something the business community can embrace and get behind, and all of the money collected goes right back into the Salvation Army programs.

“The mission of this board is pure-hearted. The Salvation Army has a reputation for doing what they say. These guys are in the trenches helping people who cannot help themselves.”

For more information about the Nov. 15 red kettle program and breakfast, contact Leigh at 630-2277.