The first way the Salvation Army helped Daniel Simmons was through assisting him and his mother with their utility bill. As he grew up, he got involved in the organization’s music and sports activities, received gifts through the Angel Tree program, was mentored, became a bell-ringer, and went to the Army’s church services.
Then Simmons’s mother began suffering from complications from HIV. She told him when he was 12, though she’d known about it for a few years by then. A blood transfusion gave her Hepatitis C, and she developed cirrhosis of the liver.
But the Salvation Army was there for her throughout her illness. Members began driving her to doctors’ appointments and visited her in the hospital.
“It changed my life,” Simmons said of the help they received.
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Toward the end of her life, a friend of his became a Certified Nurse’s Assistant and helped care for Simmons’s mother. She died when he was 18, but his experiences with the Salvation Army imprinted a strong bond on him.
Today, the CNA who cared for Simmons’s mother is his wife. Together, they graduated from the Salvation Army’s officer training program, and now they’re in the first year of running the Salvation Army’s St. Clair County location.
There’s just one problem. Red Kettle donations are far below their mark.
Nationwide, donations are down 17 percent compared to this time last year. In St. Clair County, they’re down nearly 20 percent.
The Salvation Army started collecting donations in St. Clair County on Nov. 18, and as of Tuesday morning, $149,000 was raised.
Simmons hopes to raise $215,000 by the end of the campaign here, but with only five more days remaining, it’s looking less likely that his chapter will meet its goal.
Tuesday morning, Simmons handed out buckets at the front of the sanctuary as workers filtered in to ask where they’d be going and how they did the day before.
Well-performing locations include big-box stores like Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club and Dierbergs. The Salvation Army’s goal is to collect $250 per bucket per day, but $150 has been more common recently.
Of course, some take in a lot more, like Ronald and Donald Dear, two twins who’ve been ringing the bell since 1991.
Back then, the shifts were longer, and they stood outside for 12 hours a day, they said. Then Donald had the idea of bringing a boom box. They played the Temptations, started dancing, and more money came in.
The twins have kept track of their donations over the years, and they estimate they’ve brought in more than half-million dollars in the past 25 years. They attribute their success to bringing a smile to people’s faces. Dancing gets them noticed, and more people donate for their performance.
The Dear brothers are still superstars in the metro-east, but neither they nor “Ain’t too Proud to Beg” can make up for the plunge in donations this year.
Some reasons include the cold. Some bell-ringers are unable to stand for eight hours at a time in low temperatures, while others become sick or don’t show up. Not only are there fewer bell-ringers, but the cold also motivates people to walk briskly to their cars when coming out of stores.
It changed my life.
Capt. Daniel Simmons of the Salvation Army about the help he and his mother received
“They’re working hard and doing a good job,” Simmons said of the campaign’s bell-ringers. Still, he was able to staff only half of the 40 target locations on Tuesday.
The Salvation Army’s campaign in St. Clair County was almost $30,000 short of its goal by Tuesday. Although many people might think that the end-of-year campaign goes toward only programs at that time of the year, the Salvation Army stretches it for the entire year.
Simmons said he’s determined not to cut services, and he outlined what $30,000 could buy in a year.
It’s an after-school program for 25 kids, who get a snack, tutoring help, dinner before going home, and, on Wednesday nights, a one-hour character-building session.
Or, it’s $150 in utilities bills for 200 families.
Or, it’s four days of food a month, at about $30 a month, for 83 families.
This year is the first time that Simmons encountered deficits in the Red Kettle program. Previous campaigns in St. Clair County met their goals, and the ones he managed in Joliet and Mattoon had surpassed their quotas, he said.
Despite this, in the toy room, Claudia Simmons reported hearing no complaints from families about the Angel Tree program that provides presents to children.
For the Angel Tree program, families write down gifts their children would like, and then other people pick up those tags and shop for them. On average, children get about four to six toys, a stuffed animal, a few stocking-stuffers and a full outfit of new clothes.
Tuesday morning, the Salvation Army of St. Clair County handed out hundreds of bags full of new items.
Five years ago, the popular toys were Legos and Barbie dolls, she said. This year, the popular toys are “Pokemon,” “Paw Patrol” and all things associated with the movie “Frozen.”
The rush of the holiday season can be hectic, but seeing the joy on parents’ faces makes it Simmons’s favorite time of year.
People can send the Salvation Army donations online or via check any time of year, but the Angel Tree and Red Kettle campaigns officially end on Christmas Eve Day.