PORT AUX BASQUES – The Salvation Army’s annual Christmas Kettle Campaign will look a bit different this year, says Lieutenant Maurice Collins. For the first time in many years there will be no kettles at Foodland, which is owned by Sobey’s. Instead there will be a staffed kettle at Canadian Tire.
“We understand it totally. It’s all about keeping people safe,” says Collins. “Foodland has been very supportive of us. They really help us out throughout the year as well.”
There will also be no congregating allowed around the kettle, and volunteers will be wearing masks and gloves to comply with COVID-19 guidelines. Every time someone drops money into the kettle, it will have to be wiped down and sanitized. There will also be hand sanitizer available for people who choose to make cash donations.
“This year we have something new. It’s called Tip Tap,” shares Collins. “You can take out whatever form of payment you want to use – debit card, credit card – just hold it up to the little box that’s there, and it automatically debits your account. So that way you don’t have to touch anything or we don’t have to clean it after. So it’s a very safe unit.”
Coleman’s grocery store is also providing space for an unstaffed Tip Tap kettle this year, and there will also be a cash and debit kettle stationed at the Salvation Army Thrift Store on Main Street. In addition, the Salvation Army will not be handing out any paper products to donors.
“We used to give out a calendar or some printed material and this year we will not be giving that out,” advises Collins. “While we don’t have any cases here now in Port aux Basques that we know of does not mean that we will not have any cases. So we need to protect our community, and we need to protect our volunteers and follow the guidelines that the Chief Medical Officer of our province is telling us to do.”
This year the Salvation Army will also not be holding its annual Food Bank drop off campaign, but Collins notes that the Ministerial Association always does the Christmas food boxes. There is an online application available to register for both the food and the toy campaigns. Collins advises residents from South Branch to Rose Blanche – Harbour Le Cou to contact their local church for any assistance.
“This year instead of giving out food, we’re going to be giving out gift cards to the grocery stores,” says Collins.
By giving out gift cards, it prevents a mass congregation of people picking up their food.
“When we’ve done the food drive up at the church, there’s 70 or 80 people there just waiting to get in,” says Collins. “Last year it was a snowstorm. Last year was really nasty, and I think the year before was really nasty. I just don’t think it’s good for a person’s self-esteem to be standing there.”
Instead, families who receive a gift card will be given a specific appointment time to come collect it at their church. Collins says the amount on the gift card will naturally vary depending on the size of the family.
“They can go to the grocery store and pick up their own groceries and not be stereotyped,” says Collins, who concedes there is still a stigma associated with the Christmas hampers and Food Bank.
While he won’t know the final number for the Christmas food hampers until mid-December, Collins anticipates a significant increase in demand. Almost two full months before Christmas, the Salvation Army has already noticed an increase in the number of residents requesting assistance from the weekly Food Bank.
“When COVID first started it slacked back, and we don’t know why it slacked back, but since September we’ve seen an increase in Food Bank,” shares Collins. “Probably a fifty percent increase. It’s a huge increase and we’re seeing numbers now that we haven’t seen in a while, and I think as the cold weather goes on it’s going to get worse.”
Currently the Food Bank is operated on Mondays from 9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. by appointment only. Residents are given a time to stop by the Thrift Store location and groceries will be put out by the back door for collection.
If it seems like the Salvation Army is adhering strictly to rigid pandemic protocols, that’s because it is. Collins says the store alone has to be constantly cleaned. After it closes at 4:30 p.m., staff must spend at least a half hour sanitizing the entire facility. It’s a lot more work for the volunteers.
“We’ve got a person on the front door, specifically, for when you walk in they clean the door handles on the inside and on the outside,” says Collins. “A lot of hand sanitizer.”
Donations are restricted to Fridays only. Staff must keep the dropped items for a mandated period of time before they can be opened, and masks and gloves must be worn while sorting.
Says Collins, “I don’t know what kind of impact the kettles will have for us this year with COVID. I guess time will tell.”
The kettles will be in place at Canadian Tire, Coleman’s and the Thrift Store beginning Thursday, Nov. 12, remaining open for donations until lunchtime on Christmas Eve.
“We’ve extended it an extra week this year because, well, mainly because we just need to be out there.”