It could begin to start looking like Christmas weeks earlier than previous years. Because of the need of millions of Americans impacted by COVID-19, the Salvation Army has announced an early start to their annual holiday kettle drive.


The national campaign, "Operation Rescue Christmas," was announced earlier this week. According to the organization, the need for services has increased far beyond previous years.


Kewanee Salvation Army Director Eddie Toliver said the campaign will directly benefit the community.


"To help ensure that no one goes without assistance during the holidays, we are launching our national ‘Rescue Christmas’ campaign as an effort to raise public awareness of the profound need that we are seeing," he said. "These funds raised during the kettle campaign help place presents under the tree, put food on the table, help to pay bills and provide shelter for those without a home."


According to Toliver, 80 percent of the assistance budget for the community comes from the red kettle campaign. Donations from the kettles provide localy financial assistance, emergency lodging, groceries, cleaning supplies, school supplies and Christmas presents.


"Nationally, 82 cents of every dollar donated to The Salvation Army goes directly toward funding Salvation Army initiatives. And all of the money stays within our local community in which it was given," Toliver said.


The economic impact of COVID-19 has hit the community hard. Based on the increased services already provided this year by the organization, they predict they could serve up to 155 percent more people this year with Christmas assistance. But The Salvation Army expects to feel the impact of the pandemic on their kettle campaign as well.


According to a press release, "because of a number of factors related to COVID-19 — including social-distancing rules, fewer holiday shoppers at stores, and greater demand for assistance — The Salvation Army expects that contributions to its iconic Red Kettles will drop substantially."


Locally, Toliver said he is waiting to find out how soon he can put bell ringers and kettles in prime locations such as Walmart and Walgreens. National contract agreements govern those locations, but Toliver said the kettles will definitely begin to appear earlier than normal. The official date has previously been the day before Thanksgiving.


Moreover, the pandemic will require that the organization meet some new challenges this year when it comes to training and safety.


"There will be more wiping down and disinfecting – more social distancing," said Toliver. "We will be following CDC guidelines, and bell ringers will be given training and PPE."


Toliver said the hope this year is to raise at least $28,000 from the kettle campaign and an online virtual kettle that will be up and running soon.


"That’s a big chunk of what we need to help with assistance programs," he said.


Volunteers are still needed, and Toliver said he is just beginning to reach out to past volunteers to see if they are willing to help out again. Anyone interested in volunteering as a bell ringer or for other volunteer opportunities can contact Toliver at eddie.toliver@usc.salvationarmy.org.