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Charlottesville Salvation Army falling short on fundraising

Trips to the grocery store during the holiday season are marked by one distinct and familiar sound: the ringing of Salvation Army bells.

The international nonprofit’s Red Kettle Campaign has stationed volunteers in commercial districts in cities nationwide, ringing their bells and collecting donations in red kettles, for more than a century. The campaign got its start in San Francisco in 1891, when it raised funds to feed the city’s poor.

It is considered one of the more successful fundraising campaigns in history, and certainly one of the most well known, but the Charlottesville Salvation Army branch is struggling.

The local Salvation Army said it is $17,000 short of its campaign goal of $110,000 this year, which is also $10,000 less than the group received during last year’s drive.

“There are a lot of homeless people out there, and we need to keep our doors open,” development director of the Charlottesville branch James Battaglia told The Daily Progress. “A lot of them are just unlucky, and it’s hard to get back on their feet, so it’s critically important that we can help them.”

It’s alarming news considering the increase in demand for the Salvation Army’s services, as the only year-round, overnight shelter for the homeless in the city amid an uptick in homelessness in Charlottesville and the surrounding area. The 58-bed shelter this year has said on multiple occasions it has run out of space.

But the decline in philanthropic support is not unique to Central Virginia, as Salvation Army chapters across the country are reporting a drop in donations in recent years. The organization’s signature fundraising event raised $126 million in 2019, but only $102 million in 2022.

Multiple factors could be contributing to the decline, including a pandemic that rattled the economy and the declining popularity of physical cash. The Salvation Army said it has made efforts to adapt, providing new ways to donate digitally through Apple Pay, PayPal or Venmo, even text donations.

Battaglia said the Charlottesville chapter has suffered from a lack of volunteers, particularly during “the holiday’s heavy shifts.”

“We’ve also been down in food donations, so we had to buy more food than normal,” said Battaglia.

Despite the shortages, the faith-based group is still operating all of its services and managed to feed roughly 270 people on Thanksgiving, according to Battaglia.

“We really pulled it together at the last minute,” he said.

While cash gifts may be hard to come by, newly purchased goods for the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree drive came in abundance this year. Battaglia said he personally signed at least 600 letters thanking donors for the 1,000-plus gifts that were donated for children whose parents are unable to afford Christmas presents.

The annual Red Kettle Campaign is not the only time the organization will be asking for community support in the new year. The Charlottesville Salvation Army is preparing to launch a new capital campaign in mid- to late 2024.

The Salvation Army building, which has stood on Ridge Street for 60 years, is planning for an overhaul that will expand it into a 47,000-square-foot, four-story building with enough space for 100 beds and seven transitional apartment units. The remodeled structure will also include a multipurpose space for community events and classes. The nonprofit group’s administrative offices will be moved as part of that transition, though a new location has not yet been identified.

“I think it’s going to be a banner year next year because people are going to notice what we’re doing with the new building and still providing services,” said Battaglia. “It’s going to be a great year — a challenging one, but a good one.”


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