WATERROWN — James Claflin thought the COVID-19 pandemic would drive down Salvation Army donations this year at the Red Kettle he mans at the Tops plaza on Washington Street.

But people have been generous, he said, and they’ve been digging deep into their pockets for change and paper money to give.

“I thought that donations would be down, but they’re giving,” he said.

He’s been looking for donations at the same Red Kettle spot at Tops for almost 20 years. It’s encouraging that people keep giving during the pandemic, he said.

The Salvation Army kicked off the annual Red Kettle campaign a bit earlier this year, in anticipation that cases of the novel coronavirus would increase during it.

Volunteers are at between nine and 15 Red Kettles across the city from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. six days a week until the drive ends.

All the volunteers will be masked and social distancing of six feet will be required. Donors who are worried about being exposed to the virus can donate through Google Pay and Apple Pay.

This year’s $62,000 goal for the Watertown Salvation Army is more crucial because of needs for people during the pandemic, said Maj. Dennis Smullen of the Salvation Army.

Every penny raised through Watertown’s Red Kettle campaign will go to people here, he said.

The Salvation Army has received between a 50% and 70% increase in requests for food and toys since the pandemic hit last March, Maj. Smullen said.

“Better days are coming,” he said.

The organization is providing lunches six days a week, all of them distributed in its parking lot because the building has been closed off from the public during the pandemic.

Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners also will be served that way, as well, he said. People have to apply to receive them.

The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program is proceeding this year.

The Salmon Run Mall is again one of the locations for the Red Kettle campaign this year. Pyramid Management Group, which owns the Salmon Run, is partnering with the Salvation Army to have kettles at all of its 11 shopping centers.

Last year, the Red Kettle partnership generated $3.8 million in donations from shopping center guests at Pyramid sites.

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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