Salvation Army Red Kettle Campaign a Christmas tradition

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The Prairie du Chien seventh grade girls basketball team spent time ringing bells last November for the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign.

In the wake of the flooding that hit Crawford County in August, Tec McLimans, of Fennimore, held a couple lemonade stands, raising over $2,000 for supplies that he and his family worked with the Salvation Army to donate to flood victims.

By Correne Martin

Crawford County Salvation Army Coordinator Jen Kapinus has noticed fewer homeless families coming into her office for assistance, inside the Prairie du Chien United Methodist Church, this past year. Though that may seem encouraging, it doesn’t mean needy individuals are suddenly flourishing.

“Last year, we were overwhelmed with [homelessness]. This year, it’s been rent and utilities to stay in homes—more homeless prevention,” she reasoned. “Really, there’s no organization that helps with first month’s rent and deposit. People just don’t have the means to pay $800 to $1,000 to get started.”

Affirming her observation, Kapinus described two families she’s worked with this past year and the difficulties they’ve faced.  

One includes an 18 year old and a 16 year old who live completely on their own without any family. They both work part-time while also going to school. The Salvation Army has helped the siblings pay for rent, utilities, food and gas. 

“We’re doing everything we can to keep them going. In their situation, it would be really easy for them to quit school. But, we don’t want that,” said Kapinus. 

The second family is a single mom with four kids—ages 6, 5, 3 and 2—who moved here late last year after the dad took everything and left them with nothing. The Salvation Army first aided the mom and kids through its Christmas program in 2017. Since then, the organization has gotten the family into a home and supplied them with major needs. 

“The mom has gotten a job and is working. She’s really unsure of taking assistance so she’s working very hard to make ends meet,” Kapinus stated. “Because of the Salvation Army, and just her and her determination, she’s getting back on her feet. Though, it’s still a struggle for her to meet basic needs. She does get a certain amount of assistance, but she has no car, and that’s definitely an obstacle.”

Aside from its steady provisions, which served 136 families/individuals in 2018 until funds ran out in September, the entity’s biggest event of the year was flooding in Crawford County. The Salvation Army arrived in the most impacted communities of Gays Mills, Soldiers Grove and Steuben as quickly as possible. 

“We were the first organization to respond with food and water for displaced families and emergency workers,” Kapinus explained. “We kept food and supplies going to the Gays Mills Community Center. We got a mobile canteen into Gays, and it was driven around the streets with hot meals, coffee and water. We’ve continued to help people with things like coats, shoes and cleaning supplies. We did not need to help with housing assistance; Community Development Alternatives did that.”

To sustain the funds the Salvation Army utilizes for its assistance programs, the annual Red Kettle fundraising campaign is vital. Volunteer bell ringers are stationed at Walmart, Zinkle’s Piggly Wiggly and Cabela’s in Prairie du Chien, daily, from Black Friday through Christmas Eve, and miniature kettles are placed at other participating businesses around the county. Community donations raised during that one month cover needs such as rent/mortgages, utilities, groceries, hot meals, clothing, emergency lodging, medical equipment, prescriptions, diapers, flood relief, plumbing repairs and door and window replacements for disadvantaged people. Kapinus meets and determines people’s needs by appointment and in emergencies. One of the Salvation Army’s key focuses is to ensure the safety and comfort of children in desperate situations.

In 2017, Crawford County bell ringers brought in a record $23,600, to fulfill these needs for the coming year. Kapinus said that amount was an unimaginable $5,000 more than the previous year’s collection.

“The generosity of the county and surrounding communities is astounding, especially considering we’re the second lowest-income county in the state,” she commented. “There’s a lot of pressure to exceed that. But we’re here again, and that money will stay in the county. It’s all about neighbors helping neighbors meet the everyday emergencies of life.”

Other than case-by-case assistance throughout each year, the Salvation Army coordinates a Christmas program yearly, through which people can sponsor families who need a little help bringing the magic of the season to their children. Every kid receives clothes and toys, usually from their wish list, wrapped. And they can’t request electronics (like cell phones, tablets, etc.), although they may ask for a game if they already own a console, Kapinus said. Gifts are distributed to the families the second week of December.

“We wish to get Christmas to as many kids as we can,” she noted. “We do check with other organizations, like Catholic Charities and Operation Santa, to ensure people aren’t receiving from all of us. Our goal as a community is to get assistance to as many in need as possible.”

In 2017, 183 kids received gifts through the Salvation Army distribution. To sponsor a family for 2018, contact Kapinus by Tuesday, Dec. 4. 

Anyone interested in ringing bells for a two-hour shift in Prairie du Chien, or to obtain a small red kettle for a business’ front counter, please contact Kapinus at 326-8321 (mornings), or via Facebook at Salvation Army of Crawford County WI. The Prairie du Chien police and fire are fulfilling all shifts at Cabela’s; the general public is welcome to ring at Walmart or Piggly Wiggly.

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