The COVID-19 pandemic has created a perfect storm of increased demand in services from local nonprofit organizations while also seeing a decrease in the amount of volunteers and donations.

"It's somewhat of a double-edged sword," Capt. Teri Ellison of the Duluth Salvation Army said. "We have more and more people in need because of the pandemic, but we're short of the volunteers and donations needed to provide our services."

The Duluth Salvation Army kicked off its Red Kettle Campaign on Friday, and due to COVID-19-related issues, it's in dire need for more bell ringers and kettle minders.

"By this time of year last year, we had 74% of our slots filled. Yesterday, it was more like 14%," Ellison said. "People will call or sign up online and then get quarantined or feel hesitant to be out while COVID is spiking."

One of many collection pails used by the Duluth Salvation Army and it's volunteer bell ringers during the holiday season.  (Clint Austin/caustin@duluthnews.com)
One of many collection pails used by the Duluth Salvation Army and it's volunteer bell ringers during the holiday season. (Clint Austin/caustin@duluthnews.com)

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While she understands the concerns, Ellison said that masks, distancing, sanitizing and gloves, when needed, are standard protocol for all volunteers. Also, no more than two volunteers can be at a kettle, unless from the same household, where up to four are allowed.

"We're confident that it will be safe," Ellison said. "At least as safe as anything you do if you leave your home."

This year's Salvation Army campaign theme is "Rescue Christmas for the Most Vulnerable."

The group has a goal of raising $215,000 to support its programs in 2021. On average, bell ringers raise $59 per hour. The money supports programs such as the Salvation Army's toy and food giveaway every December, the food pantry, Rookie Basketball League and lunch program. Since the pandemic started, the organization has provided 130-150 boxed, to-go lunches a day.

Capt. Teri Ellison with the Duluth Salvation Army rings a bell Thursday afternoon. (Clint Austin/caustin@duluthnews.com)
Capt. Teri Ellison with the Duluth Salvation Army rings a bell Thursday afternoon. (Clint Austin/caustin@duluthnews.com)

"We don't expect that need to go away anytime soon," Ellison said.

At locations where no bell ringers are available, there will be a new virtual kettle. Shoppers can use Apple or Google Pay to make a donation digitally. People interested in volunteering can visit centralusa.salvationarmy.org/northern/Duluth and click on "Volunteer in this community" or call 218-722-7934.

Best Christmas Ever

The Salvation Army isn't the only nonprofit in need of volunteers during the giving season. Best Christmas Ever is looking for volunteer captains to help local families going through difficult times.

Danielle Pierce and her family, of Two Harbors, open gifts from Best Christmas Ever in 2018. (File / Lake County News-Chronicle)
Danielle Pierce and her family, of Two Harbors, open gifts from Best Christmas Ever in 2018. (File / Lake County News-Chronicle)

"It's a way to help out families going through tough times through no fault of their own," Best Christmas Ever Capt. Sarah Stolp said. "We get gift ideas and set up gift trees around the community to gather donations then surprise the family near Christmas."

The nonprofit, based in Esko, was founded in 2010 by Jason Kunz and Don Liimatainen and has since expanded throughout the U.S., Canada and Costa Rica.

The organization is in this year's nomination phase, but the deadline is approaching fast. The last day to nominate a family for BCE is Sunday, Nov. 15.

To qualify, the family must be going through a difficult time through external circumstances, and there must be a child present in the home younger than 18. Families can't nominate themselves. Visit bcemovement.org to fill out a nomination form.

Zach Fowler, of Sturgeon Lake, hugs his mother, Julie Hall, after Best Christmas Ever surprised his family of five in 2018. (Photo courtesy of Berini Photography)
Zach Fowler, of Sturgeon Lake, hugs his mother, Julie Hall, after Best Christmas Ever surprised his family of five in 2018. (Photo courtesy of Berini Photography)

Once all the nominations are in, Stolp and her fellow captains go through the nominations and pick the ones they'd like to help. Working with the nominator, Stolp gets ideas for gifts for the family and sets up trees at local businesses with the gift requests.

Stolp anticipates many nominations due to the pandemic. She said the organization could use help at all levels of the process. Visit bcemovement.org for more information.

"It's been a crazy tough year for people," Stolp said. "If anyone wants to get involved, it would help make a big impact at the end of this difficult year."

Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank

Volunteers make up to one-third of the workforce at Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank. When COVID-19 first hit, Executive Director Shaye Moris said the food bank asked its more elderly volunteers to remain at home and relied on newly unemployed younger volunteers.

"When business started to reopen, we lost many of them, yet many of our elderly have remained at home. It’s been a challenge, especially in recent weeks, to find volunteers as COVID cases surge," Moris said. "We're always looking for more volunteers, especially those who could commit to a regular shift, so that we're exposing less new people to our facility, but we realize not everyone can do that."

Shaye Moris shows Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz a refrigerated area loaded with produce during a tour of Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank in Duluth on Aug. 7. (2020 file / News Tribune)
Shaye Moris shows Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz a refrigerated area loaded with produce during a tour of Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank in Duluth on Aug. 7. (2020 file / News Tribune)

Volunteers are needed to pack and sort food that is distributed to 180 nonprofit programs through the region. Other issues that have arisen this year for the food bank include a disruption in the nation's food-supply chain. Moris explained that they've had to purchase more products at wholesale prices.

"It's a more expensive way to feed people," she said. "But we're doing our best to find food donations wherever possible."

The food bank has also seen an increased need in the region. There was a surge in demand in the spring, which leveled off a little in the summer but has continued to climb this fall.

"We typically see an increase in need in the winter months. I've always attributed that to home heating costs and medical care increases with cold and flu season," Moris said. "Financially, our region has been extremely generous, which has really helped since our expenses and need for food has increased. We are seeing some softening now, which makes us nervous knowing we’re probably just starting to see the increased need for food."

Donations to the food bank stretch further than at a typical grocery store, as they're able to leverage donated food. According to Moris, a $20 donation will typically provide up to 60 meals — $140 worth of groceries.

To volunteer or donate to Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank, visit northernlakesfoodbank.org.