Salvation Army sees big increase in need this holiday season. Red tide is partially to blame

Thanks to you, not one child from the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree or Adopt-A-Family programs will wake up Christmas morning without a big smile on their faces.

That’s saying a lot considering there was a significant increase in registrations for the programs this year, which began in September, and at a time when red tide was significantly impacting Manatee County employees who rely on tourism.

Factor in rising rent prices and it’s a combination that can hit working families hard.

Kelly French, director of community relations and development for the Salvation Army, said she doesn’t believe it’s a coincidence between the rise in need to the impacts of red tide.

“The need is up for several reasons and one is the rent in Manatee County is going up faster than income,” French said. “The general cost of living also is up and I also suspect red tide is a factor for people employed by businesses on the coast that may have been temporarily laid off from work considering registrations for our programs were in September when those people were really getting hit hard by the red tide slowdowns.”

The Angel Tree program served 1,178 children while the Adopt-A-Family program provided gifts to another 1,442 children, for a total of 2,620 kids. That’s up 800 from last year, but thanks to the community, every child and family got selected.

“Without the support of these programs, the children would wake up Christmas morning with very little, if anything, under the tree,” French said. “Every single child was pulled off the Angel Tree and every family in the Adopt-A-Family program was adopted.

“The community really did step up and the bags were so full. I was amazed by that and we are really grateful and blessed to meet every child’s need.”

While the programs serving children for Christmas were a big success, French said the Salvation Army’s primary annual fundraiser — the familiar red kettles and bell ringers — is down in donations. As of Friday, the agency was about $20,000 short of its annual goal.

“We don’t have the total numbers yet, but we had been down about $30,000 and then had a couple of really good days,” French said. “Part of it was we had some extended bad weather and another part of it was we had a shortage of volunteers so we weren’t able to get all of the kettles out. We are hoping Saturday and Sunday were good days, and we’ll be out (Christmas Eve) until 4 p.m.”

Christmas never fails to be a giving season, which is why the Salvation Army relies heavily on the kettle program to fund its annual mission, which doesn’t end after the holidays.

Like Thanksgiving, the Salvation Army plans to serve upwards of 300 people and families on Christmas day with a menu of ham, potatoes, vegetables and desserts. But the agency serves an average of 150-200 people every day at its 1204 14th St. W. location.

“And we serve on average between 75 and 150 people in our shelter every night,” French said. “It’s not just men, but families and children. When the people of Manatee County help us, they are helping those families who are trying really hard to turn their lives around.”

Christmas dinner will begin at noon and is expected to be completed by 1:30 p.m.

“The Salvation Army opens its doors for anyone in need of a hot meal and fellowship on Christmas day,” French said.

Breaking News/Real Time Reporter Mark Young began his career in 1996 and has been with the Bradenton Herald since 2014. He has won more than a dozen awards over the years, including the coveted Lucy Morgan Award for In-Depth Reporting from the Florida Press Club and for beat reporting from the Society for Professional Journalists to name a few. His reporting experience is as diverse as the communities he covers.
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