In what could be a belt-tightening Christmas season, it’s only normal to wonder how charities will manage through what should be their busiest time of year when it comes to donations.
By Steven Sandor | November 28, 2020
The rise of tap-and-go Interac services was already reducing our need to carry cash. Then, COVID-19 came, and cash became dead weight in our wallets, purses and pockets. Stores didn’t want our bills. Our toonies and loonies piled up in our cup holders.
Come Christmas, we’ll be going to malls with masks on, and cards at the ready. But what does this mean for charities who depend on us having spare change?
The Salvation Army kettle is a standard sight at shopping malls during the holiday season. We are familiar with the ringing of the bell, the globe filled with change and bills.
“Even in April, we were looking forward to the impact COVID would have on the giving season,” says Al Hoeft, divisional secretary for public relations and development for the Salvation Army’s Alberta and Northern Territories division.
But the charity was already prepping for a cashless society. Two years ago, many kettle stations were also equipped with Moneris machines, so people could donate via plastic. Hoeft said the program showed great promise, especially in Alberta, which had the best adoption rate in Canada.
Still, even with the positive early returns, electronic transactions made up only eight per cent of the 2019 kettle campaign. “There is still something magical about folding a bill or giving your change to your child to put in the kettle,” he says.
This year, giving electronically will be easier than ever. New tip-tap machines will be placed on the kettle arms. A screen will allow donors to choose $5, $10 or $15 options, which can be executed with a tap.
Cleanliness is Next to Costliness
But, charities are learning how to deal with another series of changes brought on by COVID: How to serve Edmonton’s needy and stick by physical-distancing measures.
Megan Schuring, director of community development for the Mustard Seed, says that some centres that could have from 50 to 100 people coming through can now only do a maximum of 15.
As well, serving meals buffet style has been replaced with single-serve, ready-to-go meals. Curbside pickup is being used to serve meals to Edmonton’s homeless.
The Mustard Seed launched its Dinner2Door program, where people in a cohort prep the meals that are then frozen and later delivered to households struggling with food security. Since being launched in July, the program has been serving up to 1,500 meals per week. For those who don’t have the ability to heat up meals, the curbside pickup program was serving about 130 people per week in Edmonton, according to September numbers.
Hoeft said physical distancing is affecting the Salvation Army’s shelters.
“When we’re feeding people, unless they’re in a cohort, we can’t have, say, eight people together. In our shelters, capacity has had to be reduced. If a dorm could house eight people before, it might only be able to house three at the moment.”
Rising Costs, Unsure Futures
If physical distancing wasn’t enough of an issue, Hoeft said that costs to charities are rising.
The materials needed to sterilize surfaces, the increased cleaning protocols — well, cleaning products aren’t free. And then there are also extra staffing costs. These are the costs you might not think about right away.
Meanwhile, Schuring is concerned that Edmontonians, who were still giving to charities at the outset of the pandemic, might have fewer resources to donate now, or be suffering from COVID fatigue.
“We were fortunate, lots of people donated to us (when the first COVID-19 cases were diagnosed in Alberta),” she says. “But, as we’re coming up to Christmas, will we see more layoffs? When COVID first happened here, lots of people said we have the resources to make it through this for a while. But now, eight or nine months on, people are getting exhausted, funds are running out.”