As they do every December, Salvation Army volunteers sit patiently in Edmonton malls next to the familiar large plastic kettles.
This is a crucial time of year for the charity. About one-third of the annual budget for the Edmonton chapter of the Salvation Army relies on the Christmas Kettle Campaign.
When he describes what that money does, Capt. Mark Stanley simply says: “Hope is life changing.”
Unfortunately, this Christmas, too many are relying on hope, including charities themselves.
Currently, the Salvation Army has raised 25 per cent of its Christmas Kettle goal.
“We’re a bit nervous,” Stanley said. “We are aware of the economy.”
Alberta’s lagging economy is hurting other Christmas charities as well.
Dan Johnstone, also known as Can Man Dan, collects food and money for the food bank. For the last six years, he has always met his goals. This year, he’s sitting at 63 per cent of his food targets and less than 50 per cent of his money goal.
Christmas Bureau Edmonton is also coming up short. The charity makes food hampers for the city’s less fortunate.
This year, the organization predicts it will need $1.8 million to pay for the anticipated grocery bill. So far, it has raised a little more than 20 per cent of that.
“The uncertainty is there,” Executive Director Darlene Kowalchuk said. “Will we reach the $1.8 million to pay the grocery bills in January? I’m not sure.”
Individual donors aren’t giving as much and neither are corporate ones.
On Tuesday, Dentons law firm is planning a fundraising breakfast for the Christmas Bureau. Only half of the 70 tables have been sold.
The companies are telling the charity: not this year.
“They’re struggling too,” Kowalchuk said. “They’re having to layoff staff and that’s making it difficult to do these extra breakfasts and dinners.”
The problems are compounded by the fact so many more people need help.
The Salvation Army in Edmonton has seen a 25 per cent increase in demand for services. In areas harder hit by the economy, there is a 60 per cent increase.
The Christmas Bureau was expecting between 12 and 15 per cent more clients this year. So far, they’ve received 20 per cent more applications.
Volunteers have noticed something about some of the people who are looking for help this Christmas.
“Some of the stories I’m hearing as I’m talking to donors is they were a donor last year but this year, they need help,” Kowalchuk said.
Johnstone has seen the same thing.
“I’ve actually had people saying, ‘usually we donate to you but this year, we’re actually using the food bank for ourselves,'” he said. “It’s tough for me personally because I used all the services growing up. I’m just hoping that we can get everyone exactly what they need for the season.”
Some of the charities have cut back on what they offer. Most aren’t sure what will happen between now and Dec. 25.
“You get to a point where you say you can’t handle any more than we’ve got,” Stanley said. “We aren’t quite there yet but we’re getting to that line.”
With all the challenges front of mind, charities are hoping for a bit of a miracle as they embark on the final Christmas push.
There are plenty of reasons for pessimism this year but no charity excels at pessimism.
“I have this glimmer of hope in me,” Kowalchuk said, “the Christmas spirit in me that hopes when all of this is said and done that Edmontonians come forward like they have in the past.”