The Salvation Army has had a strong presence on Martha’s Vineyard for 15 years, and community donations have continued supporting Islanders with things like rental assistance, food, and transportation.
This year, the Salvation Army bell ringers are donning masks and consistently sanitizing their kettles to ensure that individuals who want to donate feel comfortable doing so. With the COVID-19 pandemic putting many people out of work, and making consistent access to housing and nutritious food difficult for some, volunteer Maddie Lopes said the Salvation Army is doing all it can to fill in some of those gaps in a variety of ways.
Lopes said that the Salvation Army began a nationwide initiative called Rescue Christmas, which saw bell ringers standing beside kettles to collect donations a bit earlier than in years past.
“We saw that there will be many more needs than before. People are unemployed, with unemployment rates expected to be 10 or 11 percent,” Lopes said. “Some people need money for food or heat for their home because they lost their job.”
With this realization, Lopes said, the Salvation Army on-Island put out their kettles a bit before Thanksgiving, when normally the kettles are set up after Thanksgiving.
She said only three large kettles will be put out this year, because they were not able to give out the smaller kettles that individual Island stores had in prior years.
Lopes said there is a steady group of volunteers on-Island who have been giving their time for many years to support Islanders during the holidays and year-round.
For people who need rental assistance, Lopes said, the Salvation Army allocates a portion of its budget toward helping them pay their rent.
Money put in the kettles will also go to supporting folks with electric, water, and heat bills, along with gift cards or vouchers to Island grocery stores.
“We have also helped people with clothing, and more specific needs for their homes or their families,” Lopes said. “Things like portable heaters or other items that are for a specific family’s need.”
Despite the tribulations seen in 2020 for individuals and families, Lopes said she is proud to say that the Island has so many different agencies to fill all types of needs.
“I think everyone knows 2020 was a different year, not for the best unfortunately. A lot of people are struggling, but we are very fortunate on the Island to have different agencies to help, and one of those is the Salvation Army. All these organizations work together really well,” Lopes said.
Lead volunteer for the Salvation Army Rick Reinhardsen said all bell ringers are required to wear masks, wipe down their kettles regularly, and make sure they are giving individuals necessary distance if they wish to donate.
According to Reinhardsen, Islanders have been very generous this year, as “as they always have been,” but he said he doesn’t expect as fruitful a year as last year, for several reasons.
“People just might not have the funds. We have been able to raise enough on the Island to cover our annual budget for probably the past 10 or 15 years. If we don’t raise enough to cover our budget for the coming year and there is a need out there, the Salvation Army has always said, ‘You fill the need, we will find the funds,’” Reinhardsen said. “No one ever has to be turned away if they are in need.”
According to Reinhardsen, there are 12 volunteer bell ringers who work to collect funds, and 100 percent of the money raised stays right here in our Island community.
“Many people come up to me and they will donate what they have and say, ‘You have helped us in the past, so we will give whatever we can,’ and I think that really shows how invested people are in their community,” Reinhardsen said.
And the partnerships that the Salvation Army are engaged in are, according to Reinhardsen, a strong example of community organizations working together.
He said early on in the pandemic, Martha’s Vineyard Bank reached out and provided a $10,000 grant for rental assistance to the Salvation Army, and they were able to disperse those funds to Island families.
Additionally, he noted that there are many benevolent food organizations that have partnered with the Salvation Army, such as Serving Hands and major food banks.
“The national Salvation Army has been delivering food boxes throughout Massachusetts ever since the start of COVID. Each box has about 35 meals in it, so we brought 160 of those food boxes over here for the Wampanoag Tribe, to be delivered to those families,” Reinhardsen said. “We are always looking to make connections with other organizations that can provide assistance, and to make people aware of the help that is available.”
The Salvation Army kettles are available from 10 am to 4 pm every Saturday until Christmas Eve at Cronig’s Market in Vineyard Haven, Mardells’ Gifts in Vineyard Haven, and Edgartown Stop & Shop. During the week, the kettles are available at Cronig’s and Edgartown Stop & Shop between 1 pm and 5 pm.