They have more mouths to feed than your average family, and they’re looking for some help.
The Greater Derry/Londonderry Salvation Army has seen more children than ever at two of its summer feeding programs, and wants to continue serving a balanced meal to these children until school opens again. But a shortage of donations in the holiday “Kettle Drives,” its main fund-raiser, has had a domino effect on the summer program and its operations for the rest of the year. The Salvation Army is now calling on community members and community groups to help finish out the summer, so they can better help people in the fall.
Lt. Kylie Williams, who with her husband, Chris, directs the local Salvation Army programs, said in a phone interview that the program, now in its fourth year, has doubled in the number of children it serves. “We had 500 our first year, and last year we served almost 1,000,” Williams said.
The agency added a third location this year, in Londonderry, and while that’s been slow taking off, the traditional Derry locations of Hood Park and The Fairways are booming, she said.
The problem, Williams said, is that donations have not kept pace with the need. The Christmas Kettle Drive, which supports the Army for the next calendar year, was down $40,000 to $50,000, she said.
Williams made their need public a few weeks ago and received a $100 cash donation and some crackers and juice boxes. She is grateful for the donations but noted that with the addition of a food pantry, their resources are stretched thin. By September, she estimates, the agency will have about $2,000 in its coffers to make it through to December.
At this point in the summer, a minimum of $500 would allow them to buy food for the next three weeks without stretching their other resources, Williams said. They can make it work by careful food “shopping,” she said.
“My husband goes to the New Hampshire Food Bank, and gets our hot dog and hamburger rolls for free,” she said. Donations of juice boxes and small packages of chips would better enable them to buy fruit, meat and other protein, the components of a federal “healthy lunch.
If donations are low again this holiday season, they will have to reevaluate the lunch program, a process no one really wants to do, Williams said. Their goal has been to expand it to five days a week in summer, but she doesn’t know now if that will happen.
Frank Childs, Chief Financial Officer for Derry and a Salvation Army board member, reluctantly agreed. “We will have to address the viability of this program,” he said. “It’s only successful if we have support from the public.”
The numbers are strong this year, Childs said. He works at the Hood Park food truck one day a week, and is “excited and pleased” at the number of children who won’t go hungry because of the Army’s efforts.
Childs agreed that the Kettle Campaign was lower than expected or needed. While people are still generous, the campaign was hampered by a late start because of a later-than-usual Thanksgiving. “We can’t start until Black Friday,” he said. It was a phenomenon observed by Salvation Army corps in other towns, Childs added.
Childs said the Army welcomes in-kind donations or cash. He estimated $500 to $1,000 could help them finish out the year without dipping into other funds, and leave them in shape for fall.
The Williams and their volunteers are determined to finish out the season, even if they have to skimp on something else. No child will go hungry, Kylie Williams said, emphasizing, “We are going to make it through the summer.”