Red Kettle season is upon us, Salvation Army donations help local people in need

Jen Kapinus, chairwoman of the Crawford County Salvation Army, stands next to one of the Red Kettles shoppers will see in front of Walmart or Piggly Wiggly this holiday season. All of the funds donated through the kettles stay in the county to support people in homeless, displaced, abusive or poor situations. (Photo by Correne Martin)

By Correne Martin

The Crawford County Salvation Army had its best year in a decade in 2012, collecting $12,000 in donations to help out homeless families, displaced workers, citizens in abusive situations, transients passing through and others in need locally. What’s most astounding about that amount is that pretty much every single dollar was contributed around the Christmas season.

“We really don’t get donations throughout the rest of the year. It’s almost all raised around Christmas time, mainly through our Red Kettles,” said Jen Kapinus chairwoman of the Crawford County Salvation Army. “The important thing to remember about the Salvation Army is that it’s 100 percent funded from local donations and the money stays in the county to help people in our small communities.”

In addition to those who are helped out during the year, the Salvation Army makes a big push for assistance to families for the holidays. Thanks to donors and sponsors, winter clothing, food, essentials and toys can be given to those in need. People are encouraged to adopt a family, children or one or two individuals—a number they can afford—and then purchase necessities for them. Sponsors may also give monetary donations to the Salvation Army and then Jen will take care of the shopping for them.

“We coordinate with Crawford County Human Services to reach those who could benefit from the program,” said Jen, who has been with the program for six years (though not always the chairwoman). “We try to help out people who don’t already go through Operation Santa and Catholic Charities for assistance. In recent years, we’ve also tried to gear it more toward children and families, versus out-of-town people moving through.”

Anyone interested in sponsoring or donating to the Salvation Army, or anyone who feels they have a need, may contact Jen on weekday mornings at 326-8321 or Jen’s office is located inside the United Methodist Church of Prairie du Chien.

To help fulfill the need of those struggling, the signature Red Kettles and bell ringers become a familiar site in front of stores during the holiday season. In Prairie du Chien, bell ringers take their posts in front of Walmart and Piggly Wiggly, starting the day after Thanksgiving. Volunteers staff two-hour shifts at these two locations every week night and on weekends through Christmas Eve. Most of the local churches and some youth and civic groups sign up their members to ring bells along with other individual volunteers.

People interested in giving two hours of their time are asked to contact Jen to set up a shift. Civic organizations are welcome to pick a day and get their volunteers involved.

“We welcome kids and their parents, senior citizens, and any area residents who want to give back to the community. If people can just give a few hours of their time, their kettle might bring in enough to feed several families,” Jen noted. “Giving for others is what the holidays are all about. If you’ve never done it before, it’s a very gratifying thing to do.”

According to Jen, it’s mainly the money put in kettles that funds the Crawford County Salvation Army. Just under 60 families have been assisted by the organization so far in 2013. She said some of the greatest areas of need this year have been rent money, gas money and motel room stays.

“It’s been a really big motel year. We have helped 24 families who needed emergency lodging—people who have experienced a fire, transients, the homeless or the abused. Fourteen needed gas for their vehicle,” she commented.

One example of a person recently assisted was a teenage homeless girl who was living on the streets of Prairie du Chien. The Salvation Army was able to get her food, clothing, a warm shower and a nice place to stay until she could get up off her feet.

Another example of recent assistance was when a homeless family was able to find a house and the Salvation Army worked with Couleecap to get them a used refrigerator for their food.

Other cases of aid have included providing kids with school supplies, helping low-income elderly pay for needed prescriptions, purchasing bus tickets for homeless people who just need to go home to their families for support, finding abused women emergency lodging at a shelter in La Crosse, or locating jobs for parents of young, poor families.

“There are a lot more people in need in our county than we might imagine,” Jen explained.

Referrals are not necessary for the Salvation Army to help out people and there isn’t a lot of paperwork involved either. Oftentimes, law enforcement and human services employees write vouchers to local merchants for food and essentials and then the Salvation Army is reimbursed. Sometimes, teachers, pastors or hospital employees alert the organization to people in need too. But, for the most part, anyone can seek support.

“We’re not just helping the same people over and over though. We do make exceptions, depending on the situation, but our mission is to help those who truly need it. We have turned people away who have taken advantage of the program,” Jen said. “We try to be really good stewards of the money people have donated.”

So if your heart is gripped by the growing needs of the struggling strangers in local communities, drop some change or a few dollars into a Red Kettle in Crawford County and rest assured that your contribution will have an impact. If you can’t spare money this season, consider volunteering two hours of your time to ring a bell for the Salvation Army.

Contact Jen at 326-8321 or Or Like Salvation Army of Crawford County, Wisconsin, on Facebook, for more information.

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