The Salvation Army's annual kettle campaign is almost $190,000 short of its $385,000 goal for Winnipeg, making it an unexpected victim of this year's rise in theft and violence at Liquor Marts.
The Army pulled its kettles from Liquor Marts after last month's violent attack at the Tyndall Park outlet where three employees were injured, including one requiring hospitalization.
"We pulled out of them because of the crime and violence," James Randss, who directs public relations for the Army’s Prairie division, said, noting the Army usually gets 15 per cent to 20 per cent of its donations at liquor stores. "We didn’t want to put our volunteers in danger. It didn’t seem smart to be sitting with a kettle of cash at the front door."
The Army was hesitant earlier in November to set up outside Liquor Marts because of the spike in crime, but initially decided to continue with the longstanding tradition.
Nationwide, the Christian charitable organization has achieved just over half of its $21.6-million target.
"We’re fighting hard to reach our goal," said Randss. "We’re hopeful Winnipeggers will come through once again, as they have in the past."
To help the Army reach its goal in the coming days, Wal-Mart has announced it will match individual donations to kettles at its stores across the country Saturday, up to a maximum of $100,000.
"We are truly grateful for this support," said Rands, adding it will help the Army to fund its programs that feed, clothe and shelter those in need.
Another reason may be the lingering controversy over allegations the Army is reluctant to help members of the LGBTTQ* community.
"It’s frustrating we are still dealing with this," said Rands, noting the incident in question dates to 2012, when a high-ranking church official in Australia made anti-LGBTTQ* comments.
"We offer our help to everyone," he said. "We never ask anyone about their sexuality when they come to use for help."
Although Rands is not aware of any concerted efforts calling on people not to give to the Army in Winnipeg, it is a bigger issue in the U.S., where kettle volunteers are handing out cards refuting the allegation.
("For years, Facebook posts, forwarded emails and rumours have been leading some people to believe the Salvation Army does not serve members of the (LGBTTQ*) community," the cards read. "These accusations are simply not true.")
Volunteers in Winnipeg are not handing out the cards, Rands said, and he is not aware they are being used in other places in Canada. However, the Canadian office of the Army has posted a statement on its website addressing the issue.
"We’re fighting hard to reach our goal. We’re hopeful Winnipeggers will come through once again, as they have in the past." – James Rands, Salvation Army’s Prairie division
Addressing anti-gay comments by the Australian church leader, the statement says: "The Army around the world immediately rejected those comments and made public statements against them. We stand by the rejection of those comments still. We sincerely apologize to the (LGBTTQ*) community and to our clients, employees, donors and volunteers for the offence caused by this misrepresentation of the Army’s views."
According to Rands, "these same insinuations promoting hatred for the Salvation Army seem to arise to hinder our major annual fundraising endeavours at this time of year."
The Army’s stance is clear, he said: "We do not discriminate against anyone who needs help. Actually, it is just the opposite. We want to help as many finding themselves in less fortunate situations that we can."
The best way to "curb the negativity surrounding this is to continually show our love, care and concern for everyone, as we aim to do each and every day," he stated.
Last year, Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries decided to ban kettles inside the stores after receiving complaints from customers about charities soliciting donations; the Crown corporation had decided it would allow counter-top collection boxes at the checkouts instead.
But MLL reversed course shortly after Salvation Army officials informed them that the organization was struggling to meet its financial goals.
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.
The Free Press acknowledges the financial support it receives from members of the city’s faith community, which makes our coverage of religion possible.
Updated on Wednesday, December 18, 2019 at 9:52 PM CST: Fixes typo