BY D’ARCY EGAN
There is a Santa Claus, and the bells will begin ringing at the Salvation Army Red Kettles around Ottawa County this week. And for hundreds of kids from cash-strapped families in these difficult times, there will be presents under the Christmas tree.
Despite long odds, Director Maureen Saponari of the Salvation Army Port Clinton Service Center and her many volunteers have created a 2020 COVID-style Christmas Season.
“We are aiming to serve our community as we always have this Christmas Season,” said Saponari. “We’ll be doing it while maintaining COVID-19 guidelines, and providing a safe environment for our volunteers, donors and clients.”
It took a lot of ingenuity, admitted Saponari. It is also going to require a lot of helping hands from volunteers, both old and new, in order to man the Red Kettles, round up and distribute the toys and new coats for families, and hold a virtual Tree A Rama Charity Auction.
The popular Red Kettle Breakfast that brought together more than 400 bell ringers each season had to be scrapped because of COVID-19, so volunteers are in short supply.
The Red Kettle Campaign will have a staggered start this year from Monday, Nov. 9 through Thursday, Dec. 24. The Red Kettle volunteers at the Friendship Food Stores in Port Clinton and Catawba will be the first to ring the bells on Monday, Nov. 9. The Miller Market in Genoa and Community Market in Oak Harbor will begin on Tuesday, Nov. 17. In Port Clinton, Walmart bell ringers will be in place starting on Saturday, Nov. 21. Krogers will host the Red Kettles starting Friday, Nov. 27.
The Red Kettles will be manned every day but Sunday.
This year’s Christmas Season goal has been raised to $69,000, which just happens to be the amount the local Salvation Army Service Center raised last year, topping the annual goal by a couple of thousand dollars. The pandemic surging in Ottawa County, and around Ohio and the country, has made this year’s goal seem impossible, but Saponari and her crews have been busily solving a myriad of pandemic problems.
One of the most time consuming chores for the Red Kettle Campaign is sorting all of the coins dropped into Red Kettles each day. The sorting will again be handled by employees at the Catawba Branch of First National Bank. Each day the Red Kettle volunteers drop off about eight bags of coins and bills that collectively take hours to sort.
“We’ll be holding our Toy Drive 2020 from Monday, Nov. 9 through Monday, Dec. 14, collecting toys in special Toy Boxes placed in more than 40 locations around Ottawa County,” said Saponari. “We’re hoping to collaborate with Toys for Tots once again, and Walmart has partnered with Salvation Army on a national level to provide Angel Tree Tags in stores and a ‘Registry for Good’ wish list of toys for each community.”
People can log on to Walmart accounts and search for the local Salvation Army’s Zip Code, which is 43452, for the local Wish List, or select toys to purchase. The toys can be delivered directly to the Salvation Army’s Port Clinton office.
“We really need appropriate donations for teenagers 13 to 18 years old,” said Saponari.
The annual Toy Distribution will spread out over five days and require appointed times and additional volunteers in order to follow social distancing rules.
Families in need can sign up for the Toy Distribution by filling out forms available around the clock in the front vestibule of the Salvation Army, 1834 E. Perry St., Port Clinton.
The Tree A Rama Charity Auction, like so many social events scheduled during the pandemic, will change to a virtual event on Facebook. A major source of funding, Tree A Rama is accepting donations from Monday, Nov. 30 to Sunday, Dec. 6. The virtual auction will be Dec. 3-5 by appointment only, and on Facebook or by phone (419-732-2769) on Sunday, Dec. 6 from Noon to 4 p.m.
The Coats for Families Program will also continue this Christmas Season, said Saponari. The Salvation Army is allowed to accept only new coats this year, and by appointment only. The coats will be distributed the week of Dec. 15 to those in need by appointment only.