Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Duluth Salvation Army has surpassed its "Rescue Christmas" red kettle campaign goal of $215,000. The campaign has raised a little over $240,000 as of Wednesday, according to a news release.

“I can’t even begin to describe how grateful we are to the community. I don’t have to point out to anyone how challenging this year has been, and the Salvation Army is no exception,” Duluth Salvation Army Capt. Teri Ellison said. “The double-edged sword is that the pandemic has increased demand for our services by 155% nationwide, while at the same time, it has created immense challenges for our kettle campaigns."

Challenges to this year's campaign included fewer volunteers, reduced foot traffic and a nationwide coin shortage. But despite the challenges, donations rose above expected levels, thanks in part to new ways to donate such as contactless options with Google and Apple Pay.

"With the dramatic increase in demand for services this year, combined with trying to raise Red Kettle funds during a pandemic, we were challenged with how we can meet the increased level of need,” Ellison said. “Meeting this goal is truly a blessing.”

The kettle campaign is the biggest annual fundraiser for the Salvation Army. Funds raised go toward services the organization offers throughout the year, such as providing warm meals, toy distribution and programs such as the Rookie Basketball League.

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The campaign ran from Nov. 14 through Dec. 24, with bell ringers at 17 locations throughout the Duluth area. Volunteers signed up for approximately half of the 2,745 two-hour shifts available throughout the campaign. Of the ringers, 263 signed up for at least one shift and 193 of those ringers were new to the campaign this year.

The Salvation Army also reported a record number of food donations from Bentleyville this season. The drive-thru light display brought in 17,687 pounds of food and 2,941 new toys for its Christmas distribution. This beats the organization's previous record of 16,087 pounds of food and 2,344 toys set in 2016.

"We are truly grateful and appreciative to Nathan Bentley and the crew with Bentleyville, as well as to all their volunteers and visitors," Salvation Army spokesperson Dan Williamson said.

During its Christmas distribution week, the Salvation Army served 3,908 individuals in 819 families with food baskets and toys.