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Red Kettle donations 'really added up'

Consider the following numbers:

• On Dec. 31, 2010, Visa and Mastercard had more than 500 million debit cards in circulation in the United states.

• Those cards were used to make about 37 billion purchases in 2010, with spending that topped $1.3 trillion.

• For the sixth year in a row, the Salvation Army Red Kettle campaign has set a record in Olmsted County. This year, the total was $354,000 — topping last year's record of $303,000, and easily exceeding the Red Kettle goal of $330,000.

We put these numbers together because, quite frankly, they make absolutely no sense.

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Think about it. Gone are the days when everyone carried at least a little cash to make small purchases — a pack of gum, a newspaper, a candy bar.  We haven't conducted a survey on this, but it's a safe bet that the average person today has much less change rattling around in their pockets, couch cushions and automobiles than they did 10 years ago.

Loose change, of course, is the Red Kettle campaign's lifeblood. Therefore, it would make sense to expect a drop in donations as people turn to debit cards, rather than cash. And in some areas across the nation, that's exactly what happened, prompting some Salvation Army chapters to begin accepting debit cards at their Red Kettle sites. 

But here, trend is going in the opposite direction.

In fairness, we must give credit where credit is due. This year's record donations were achieved in large part due to a record number of people who volunteered to be bell ringers. They logged 7,000  hours, easily eclipsing last year's total of 6,300, and more than double the 2005 figure of 2,800 hours.

Furthermore, we tip our hat to Jeff Urban, the Salvation Army’s Development & Volunteer Coordinator. This surge in volunteerism has come under his watch, and through an online sign-up system, the Salvation Army has made volunteering much easier. 

Finally, however, we must congratulate and thank everyone who, as soon as the Red Kettles appear, makes a point of carrying some change whenever they go shopping. We commend those who stop and dig a dollar bill or two out of their wallets when they don't have any change.

Yes, we hear every year about the gold coins, silver bars and other valuable commodities that people put into Red Kettles, but the fact is that the bulk of the load is carried by those who donate their pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters, with perhaps a dollar bill thrown in for good measure. 

This year, as Urban put it, "All that change really added up."

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