Lower cash-carrying population not impacting Salvation Army red kettle donations

It’s a familiar scene.

A Salvation Army volunteer stands in front of a business, ringing a bell while hoping passing shoppers will donate a few dollars to raise money for the organization that provides for the needy. But shoppers these days are less likely to carry cash, opting instead to carry credit and debit cards.

“We know that the use of cash is in decline,” said Major Bret McElroy with Horry County’s Salvation Army, adding that the organization gave volunteers credit card machines at a few locations in the Myrtle Beach area for those who didn’t have cash but wanted to donate.

“We tried it and we got little, small donations. But it didn’t work [well]. It wasn’t worth the effort,” he said.

In fact, bell ringer Floyd Wood said in the nine years he’s been ringing a bell in front of stores along the Grand Strand he hasn’t seen much change in the amount of money he brings in.

“But I do pretty good for the organization,” he said on Wednesday afternoon while standing in front of Wal-Mart in Garden City.

A number of shoppers dropped donations ranging – from change to $5 bills – into Wood’s red kettle as he thanked them and wished them a Merry Christmas, several of them already having the cash in their hands as they approached from the parking lot.

Wood – who retired and relocated to the Grand Strand after working for The Salvation Army for 39 years in Pennsylvania – said he’s noticed many of the people who donate are older people who may choose not to carry credit or debit cards.

“But I get younger people as well,” he said.

McElroy said he didn’t have any statistics to support the idea that the Myrtle Beach area’s high retired population has helped with cash donations.

“I would have to talk to somebody who’s looked at all of the factors. … I wouldn’t argue with [the theory], though,” he said.

McElroy, who said he only carries a credit card, said the Horry County Salvation Army will likely begin looking at ways to secure donations online next year. He said the organization just got a website and Facebook page within the past three years.

“Online giving will be our next initiative,” he said.

McElroy said red kettle donations in Horry County have decreased over the years, but said he feels this year has been better for The Salvation Army.

Anjani Webb, spokeswoman for the Carolinas Division of The Salvation Army, said the organization has seen a slight increase in nationwide donations.

“We’ve never seen a nationwide decrease,” she said. “This year – as of the last time it was calculated – we have an 8 to 9 percent decline nationwide. … But the most profitable weekend for us is the weekend before Christmas. We’re hoping that when everything is said and done we’ll be [fine].”

Webb said donations in the southern region, which includes 13 states from Virginia to Florida and west to Texas, are up about $160,000. She said the organization is aware that fewer people carry cash, instead opting to carry plastic.

“We work to handle the cashless donors. Some locations have credit card machines that can print receipts. Others have a [quick response bar] code for people who walk up with their mobile devices,” she said. “We try to make it easier for donors without cash – like myself – who want to donate.”

Wood, who volunteers ringing the bell at Wal-Mart for 10 hours a day, six days a week, said he couldn’t stay away from The Salvation Army after retiring.

“I know how hard it is to get people to do this and I just wanted to help out while I still can,” he said.