By John Schaffner

The Salvation Army may have gotten its Red Kettles and army of bell-ringers out a little earlier this year, but donations are running about flat with last year, according to the army’s metro Atlanta area commander. The problem, said Major James Seiler, is that demand for services has increased.

The timing of Seiler’s talk to the Brookhaven Community Connection (BCC) — just 17 days before Christmas and amid the furry of holiday shopping — could not have been more appropriate.

Seilers pointed out another problem facing today’s Salvation Army: It is getting more difficult to get recruits to join.

“We are just like any church [organization],” Seiler explained. “We have some centers nationwide where we do not have officers in charge of operations, just as some churches don’t have fulltime pastor these days.”

However, despite these problems, Seiler states the Salvation Army has been able to maintain its pledge of “doing the most good” by modifying services to achieve the organization’s goals.

In addition to the early dispersal of the traditional Red Kettles, the Army has looked to several new and cost-effective strategies and technological ways to supplement holiday fundraising efforts. These include a new program that allows donors to make a $5 donation via text messaging and a system that allows for credit-card donations.

Seiler said the economy’s impact on the community has also led to the implementation of new and improved social service programs for individuals and families in need, including the opening of The Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center Atlanta in October and the expansion of the Red Shield Services Family Shelter Wing, which opened two weeks in November.

The addition to the Red Shield Lodge added 21 family rooms allows families in need to live together in the shelter, rather than be separated into male and female dormitories, which is common at most shelters.

“It is designed to help lessen the impact on family lives,” he told the BCC. “It is the only facility that allows the total family to stay together.”

Seiler also said the organization has a family literacy program that is being put in every Kroc center to help families become more productive in the communities. “We have had some amazing successes of moving people from poverty,” he stated.

The metro Atlanta-area commander also pointed out that the Atlanta office led long-term case relief and response for victims of Hurricane Katrina by identifying those who relocated after the disaster and see that help followed them.

During the recent floods in Atlanta, the Salvation Army deployed a half-dozen of its mobile feeding canteens to the flood areas to help those affected.

The Salvation Army was started in 1865 in London, England, and first came to the United States in 1878 in Philadelphia. It began working in Atlanta in 1890.

Seiler is one of 20 members of his family who have served the Salvation Army, since his great grandfather first got involved in the 1890s in New York City.