LEWISTON — John Osbun figures serving as a Salvation Army volunteer this year is bigger than ringing his bell and guarding his kettle.
When a woman appeared Tuesday afternoon with a checkbook in hand, Osbun checked his ego and hunched over.
"Need a back to write on?" he asked.
In this economy, you do what you must, he said, still bent over while the woman dated and signed her donation. Her money will be appreciated, especially this year.
Local donations have fallen steeply, Lt. Jason Brake, who leads the Lewiston center, said.
In 2010, the red kettles outside local stores raised $68,870. Brake had hoped to raise even more this year, setting a goal of $73,000.
"The need is greater than ever before," he said.
Instead, the kettle is down by $7,500, when compared to the same time last year, he said.
"If we continue the pace we're at, we're going to be right around $60,000 or $61,000," Brake said.
Why did the numbers drop?
Brake believes the economy is worse this year. He has also had trouble getting his ringers out as early as they once did.
"We didn't have as many locations before Thanksgiving as we normally do," he said.
Several big chains have passed policies that prevent the ringers from working until the day after Thanksgiving. And when the ringers were allowed to appear, the donations were smaller than before.
"Somebody who might have put in $5 might now drop in 50 cents," Brake said.
The changes are already having effects.
The kettle drive is the single pool of money that the center can tap.
"That pulls us through the whole year," Brake said. "And I always try to keep expenses down. I don't have one single employee on staff at our building. We run an all-volunteer operation. I'm the only one that gets paid for being there."
That way, the revenue can be sent back to the community. The center prepares three meals a week for the homeless, typically sends about 1,000 local kids to summer camp, and maintains a fund to help people who get behind on their electric bills. There is an annual drive to get presents to families for the holidays.
Currently, the electricity money is gone and the Christmas benefit had to be cut off early.
"We signed up 474 families for Lewiston and Auburn," Brake said. Each family had to pass a financial screening. "We probably could have signed up double that amount."
Brake hopes people understand the need.
"If they can give just a little bit, it goes a long way," he said. "And it stays here in Lewiston-Auburn."