Christmas is a time of giving, and there are few icons as befitting that spirit than the Salvation Army's Red Kettles.
A tradition dating back more than 120 years, the kettles and Salvation Army members or volunteers are familiar sights everywhere during the Christmas season.
But donations have been down this year, said Capt. Lawrence Shurtleff, commanding officer of the Dover Salvation Army, but not because people are less willing to give.
“The entire Kent County community has been very generous,” Shurtleff said. “The places where we've been able to place the kettles have done very well.”
“Our problem is that we don't have enough volunteers to man all our locales,” he said.
This year's Red Kettle campaign kicked off Nov. 18, and volunteers have been ringing the familiar collection bells six days a week, except Sunday, ever since. But unlike 2012, when Shurtleff had as many as 15 people available to man the collection kettles, this year he has only a half-dozen or so.
That means there simply aren't enough people available to stand by the 14 collection stations available at stores from Smyrna to Milford.
Most of the vacancies in the volunteer list occur during the week, when people are working, Shurtleff said. The numbers do tend to pick up in the evening, he said.
“I understand that people have to go to work,” he said, “but it can be disappointing.”
James Sine and Alvin Jones, both of Dover, are two men who have been working almost nonstop at various locales this Christmas season.
“We're sort of a tag team,” Jones said as Sine rang the bell and greeted shoppers Wednesday morning at the Redner's Warehouse Markets store in the Greentree Plaza on Del. Route 8.
People walked in and out of the store, passing Sine and Jones as they kept relatively warm in the small foyer. Several people stopped to drop some bills or a few coins from their change into the kettle. Each received a smile and a thank you in return.
“It's all about giving back to the community,” Sine said. “I've had some bad times and for me it's giving back to those who helped me out.
Like Jones and Sine, Red Kettle volunteers come from all walks of life, Shurtleff said.
“We do some recruiting before the season, we put notices in the newspapers and we sent out letters to people who have volunteers before,” he said. “But it's mostly word of mouth.”
“A lot of what happens is that people will come up to our volunteers and ask, 'How can I help?'” he said.
Volunteers working the kettles seem to be naturally charismatic and über-outgoing, Shurtleff said, all useful traits when asking people to make donations.
Page 2 of 2 - “The key is to be able to engage people and be friendly,” he said.
Even at this late date, Shurtleff said the Dover Salvation Army would welcome new volunteers for their Red Kettles. Collections will continue on Saturday, Dec. 21, Monday, Dec. 23, and on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24.
“There's still time to sign up,” he said. “People can call me on Monday and sign up for Tuesday. Or, if they want, they can just show up Tuesday morning.”
For more information, or to volunteer visit the Salvation Army headquarters at 611 Forest St., Dover, or call 678-9551.