The Salvation Army of Whitley County had a record number of donations in 2018 during its annual holiday collection.

According to community ministries specialist Christine Scroggs, the county’s Salvation Army chapter collected about $25,000 over the past holiday season, an estimated $9,000 more than the previous record for donations in Whitley County. The majority of this money, Scroggs pointed out, was collected through small donations dropped into the iconic bright red kettles stationed at local businesses.

Not only did the agency see a bump in monetary donations, but also in donations of time. In years’ prior, Scroggs said she has had to call community groups and ask them to volunteer for bell ringing shifts. This year, the groups were coming to her and every volunteer slot was filled over the holidays.

“Whitley County really came through this year,” she said.

Scroggs cited an increased awareness of the Salvation Army and its countywide reach as the main reasons for the uptick in donations. Locations began popping up in South Whitley to demonstrate that the agency is for all of Whitley County, and Scroggs hopes to extend its involvement into Churubusco in 2019.

“A lot of people when they donate or would see the kettle, I think they thought it just went to Salvation Army at large and didn’t realize it was actually in their backyard,” Scroggs said. “So this year I think the knowledge base has grown a little bit.”

As the collection total rose, the need for assistance has also gone up considerably over the past few years. In 2018, Scroggs said, the Whitley County Salvation Army paid $15,000 in utility assistance, which was twice the amount the organization had paid the year before. Requests for help with school supplies, shoe vouchers and many of the other programs are expected to continue to increase as well.

“Everything has doubled this past year so I’m expecting 2019 to be even bigger,” Scroggs said. “I have a lot of folks on a fixed income and I have a lot of people who are underemployed. They’re working; they’re trying to work. They’re just not making enough to meet their needs.”

This greater need makes the record donation year even more of a blessing for the organization. The money will go to fund its annual school supplies drive, shoe vouchers, holiday food drives and utility assistance, which continues to be the most common need of folks seeking the Salvation Army’s help.

“I think this year would’ve grown with the need anyway,” Scroggs said. “If we had the donations we had before it would’ve been harder. The fact that I have the extra funding means I can serve even more than what I was expecting.”

One program that Scroggs has big plans for in 2019 is a schedule of monthly “self-improvement” classes that will cover practical skills such as budgeting, building a resume and finding housing that fits people’s needs. The classes are set to begin in February at the 4-H extension office. For other people maybe just needing a little guidance, Scroggs wants to be a hub for support and resources to help.

“This is more than just a utility,” Scroggs said. “A lot of people use us for just a utility payment, not that I mind that, but that’s not what I want the main function of this office to be. The main function I want it to have is to be something that encourages people, accepts them where they are and helps them improve their situation. I always want them to come in and feel like this is a place of hope.”

Just because the holidays are over does not mean that people have missed their chance to support Salvation Army Whitley County and in turn, their neighbors and friends. Monetary donations are accepted all year long as well and donations of school supplies, blankets and socks, which are very much welcomed and needed as the winter cold drags on.

“It’s hard to ask for help,” Scroggs said. “But when you’re able get to a place where you’re not in need pay it forward. Come back and make a donation so I can help the next person. When you change the mindset that you’re using it, but then have an opportunity to give to it, that helps.”