Salvation Army falls short of Red Kettle goal in Osceola

The spare change (and credit card donations in recent years) from the Salvation Army’s annual Red Kettle campaign adds up to tens of thousands of dollars.

But for the second time in as many years, the drive fell short of its goal in Osceola County, according to officials from the Salvation Army of Kissimmee and Greater Osceola.

Still, the organization collected $78,000 from individuals throughout the county during the month-long drive that ended Dec. 24.

Money raised from the local Red Kettle sites directly assist individuals and families in the cities of Kissimmee, St. Cloud and in all Osceola County ZIP codes with temporary rent assistance and other help.

The biggest problem in meeting the 2018 goal was a lack of volunteers, according to Alves E. Gonzalez, the organization’s Osceola service center director.

“But the people who were giving time as volunteers were awesome and helpful,” he said.

The 54 volunteers and 24 paid bell ringers were stationed at various Red Kettle sites including Walmarts, Publix supermarkets and Hobby Lobby stores around Osceola.

The iconic holiday campaign started two weeks later than planned, which also hampered reaching the $120,000 goal, according to Gonzalez.

Its Christmas Angel Tree program provided some 180 locals kids with bikes, clothes, shoes and toys last month.

In the fall, the organization donated about $200 each to dozens of local families displaced by Hurricane Maria.

The Salvation Army, which opened an office in Kissimmee in December, has only just begun to revive its presence in Osceola.

And it couldn’t come at a better time, “because there are a lot of people in Osceola County who need help,” said County Commissioner Peggy Choudhry, who has been working closely with the Salvation Army in recent months.

Choudhry rang a ceremonial bell alongside Osceola County Sheriff Russ Gibson at the Red Kettle kick-off drive in Celebration in December to bring attention to the cause.

“I’m so proud of this organization and being able to work with them because they are directly helping our local families with emergency services that they desperately need. The need is desperate at this point,” Choudhry said. “Even though there was a shortfall, we still helped a lot of people. I have no doubt this organization will continue doing their good work and will meet their goal next year.”

Choudhry is working closely with Gonzalez and the local Salvation Army to create a service center for individuals and families in crisis who are homeless or on the brink of homelessness.

“There are a lot of wonderful volunteers now and that will grow as the Salvation Army re-establishes its presence in Osceola County. Because I know this community, and it’s wonderful and it’s full of people who want to help others.”

Osceola County’s nonprofit organizations, their staffs and thousands of volunteers throughout the community are working to assist Osceola’s most desperate men, women and children, and the Salvation Army wants to help fill gaps in services, Choudhry said.

“Right now that’s the emergency component that we don’t have here in Osceola,” she said. The Salvation Army has established a proven model in Orlando that’s been very successful, so I’m excited about what’s happening.”