Salvation Army goes digital to combat "perfect storm" of rising need, coronavirus pandemic

Salvation Army's Red Kettle goes digital
Salvation Army's Red Kettle goes digital 03:11

The Salvation Army lit what it calls the world's largest version of its iconic red kettle in New York to commemorate Giving Tuesday. However, as the coronavirus pandemic forces many nonprofits to change how they raise funds, the organization is changing its tradition to continue helping those in need over the holiday season.

Volunteer bell-ringers have collected donations for decades at the Salvation Army's red kettles, of which there are 25,000 around the country. But the 130-year-old holiday campaign is facing an unprecedented challenge as the pandemic is prompting many shoppers to stay at home. 

"In terms of fundraising, we anticipate about a 50% drop," Salvation Army National Commander Ken Hodder told CBS News' Jamie Yuccas. "Last year, the Christmas kettle campaign raised $126 million across the country. So we're looking at a decline of about $60 million."

At the same time, the organization — which helps feed and house those in need — is seeing an increase in demand. 

Already serving more than 23 million Americans each year, the Salvation Army expects to help an additional 6.5 million people this holiday season. 

"It's a perfect storm," Hodder said.

To adapt, the kettles are going high-tech, giving donors a contactless option to pay electronically. 

The Red Kettle Campaign itself is going digital, enlisting celebrities like Karamo Brown from the Netflix hit "Queer Eye."

Listen to this episode on ART19

Brown was a social worker in Los Angeles for more than a decade, and often referred his clients to the Salvation Army. 

He also personally understands the pressure on struggling families during the holidays.

"I'm a single father. And even though I worked at social services, we don't make a lot of money," said Brown. "I remember times where I had to choose between a bill and giving my child a gift. Had to choose between putting gas in the car and buying some extra food for the house."

Brown called the experience "heartbreaking."

"I felt isolated. I felt alone," he said.

Now, the TV personality is sharing stories about the Salvation Army's work with his nearly 3 million social media followers. He believes the pandemic has made more Americans empathetic.

"We're seeing this sort of shift of connection where people are like, 'I'm not going to judge you for what you need, I'm going to support you because you've asked for help,'" Brown said.

According to CBS News business analyst Jill Schlesinger, the federal government is making the choice to give even easier.

"Theres a great provision, it's tucked into the C.A.R.E.S. Act from the springtime which actually allows more taxpayers to do well, give money, but also get a tax benefit," she said Tuesday on "CBS This Morning." "It used to be before the pandemic you had to be an itemizer of deductions in order to get a tax benefit for giving. Now with this provision, any taxpayer can get up to $300 deduction from their taxes by giving to a qualified charity." 

Giving safely to charity, avoiding scams 02:40

Asked if he believes the Salvation Army will meet its enormous demand this year despite the unprecedented challenges, Brown said he does. 

"The reason is because I believe in people," he said. "I believe that we all, at the core of us, want to connect and want to help and want to love each other."

Visit RescueChristmas.org to make a donation or learn more about the ways you can help the Salvation Army rescue Christmas this year.