It might seem like bell ringers for the annual Salvation Army red kettle drive are at every store entrance in Summit County, smiling and singing as they collect spare change and bills for the needy.

Maybe in years past — but not this year.

According to officials with the Summit County chapter of the Salvation Army, volunteer numbers are down this year and that is hurting seasonal donations.

Just a week before Christmas, the organization which is known for its holiday bucket collection was about $6,000 short of its $400,000 goal, according to Phillip Engle, mission strategist for business, for the Summit County chapter of the Salvation Army.

“Last year we raised about $305,000 and we were really trying to increase that,” he said.

“The problem is not because of the giving of our community — our community gives very well. We have just had shortage of volunteers so we have not been able to man as many kettles as we have in the past. That’s been our battle,” Engle said. “People are giving, but we don’t have all the kettles out at the stores we would like to.”

Engle did not have an exact number of volunteers.

“It’s a long list, but not as many as in past years and we have a lot of blanks in our volunteer schedule,” he said. “Some of it is that people are busier and busier. The kettles are doing very well. We just don’t have the people.”

About 30 percent of the 36 kettles are manned by volunteers, Engle said.

“The rest are covered by paid workers,” Engle said.

The kettle program accounts for about 10 percent of the Salvation Army’s total funding, according to Engle. The program helps pay for emergency needs, such as help after a fire, which is not covered by grants and other funds.

“Our kettles help the fringe needs, those that fall through the cracks,” Engle said.

The Salvation Army does more than collect money at Christmas time. The organization runs several programs for children which include math, music, hydroponics and farming.

The kettle program, which runs from Nov. 9 to Dec. 24, was started in 1891 San Francisco when Joseph McFee, a captain in the Salvation Army, wanted to provide Christmas dinner for 1,000 poor people, but had no way to pay for it, according to the Salvation Army website.

McFee remembered that as a sailor in England, large pots would be set on the waterfront to collect charitable donations. McFee set up a brass urn. The idea soon spread to 30 locations. Now the kettle is nationwide.

“People are very giving, especially when they know what the money is going to be used for,” Engle said. “We help people regardless of wherever they are in their situation and whoever they are.”

And there is still time to help.

“If anyone has some time, we’ve got spots from Twinsburg to Barberton. We would love their donations and we would love their time” he added. “There are a lot of places where the bell is not being rung.”

For more on the Salvation Army call 330-762-8481 or visit https://www.salvationarmy.org.

Reporter Tim Troglen can be reached at 330-541-9435 or at ttroglen@recordpub.com.