MANKATO — Capt. Mike Parker of the Mankato Salvation Army has no idea why it’s happening.
But he does know it’s not good to be $50,000 behind last year’s fundraising pace.
Why isn’t it good? The number of people in this community who come to the Salvation Army for help isn’t getting smaller. It’s getting bigger. More families in need of food. More kids in the Santa Anonymous program. And there are always men who make use of the emergency men’s shelter.
The Kettle campaign is doing fine. It’s on pace to about equal last year’s numbers. But there might be a hint in those kettles as to why at least some of the decline in funding is happening.
Parker says they’ve found four notes in their kettles this season with the same message.
“They say ‘We’re not giving to this organization because of their stance on homosexuality,’” Parker said, paraphrasing the notes.
Two days ago in Victoria, British Columbia, a Salvation Army bell ringer held up a sign that read, “If you support gay rights, please do not donate.” Earlier this year, an Australian Salvation Army official said gays and lesbians should be put to death, a statement from which the American Salvation Army leadership immediately tried to distance itself.
Parker said he’s not sure how much this sentiment has contributed to the decline in donations.
“It’s a trend we certainly are aware of and want to be mindful of,” Parker said.
Despite the organization’s official position on homosexuality — which is that it is wrong — Parker said the organization doesn’t discriminate. They’ve hired openly gay employees and wouldn’t deny a person services because of their sexual orientation.
This is the second year of sluggish donations for the Mankato Salvation Army. To meet their goal for this year — a goal that is lower than last year’s — they still need to raise $100,500, a tough order at a time when relief efforts are in full swing for Hurricane Sandy. And the Mankato location isn’t the only one struggling.
According to a statement from the Salvation Army’s Northern Division headquarters, Christmas donations have plummeted across North Dakota and greater Minnesota.
The Twin Cites Salvation Army is on track to meet its goal. But the St. Cloud Salvation Army is behind $85,000, and Fargo is down $45,000.
“The list goes on,” Major Lt. Col. Daniel Sjögren, Salvation Army Northern Division commander, said in a statement. “It’s critical that we reach our Christmas goals in greater Minnesota and North Dakota. In many communities, The Salvation Army is their primary source of serving people in need. Without funding, these locations will have less food, clothing, energy assistance and other critical services to offer in 2013.”
If Mankato comes through with far less in donations for the Salvation Army, the organization will have some tough decisions to make.
“You don’t want it to come to programs or staff, but you have to look at everything,” Parker said. “You have to do a real serious inventory of finances. And we’ll try to see if we’re being realistic with our goals.”
Parker says he’s hopeful, though. Next year is the Salvation Army’s 125th year in Mankato. Parker is convinced the community understands the organization’s importance to Mankato and will respond accordingly.