No local bell ringers this year

Published 12:05 am Thursday, December 8, 2011

Disappointment in the lack of help distributed locally means there’ll be no Salvation Army bells ringing here this year. And the Salvation Army is blaming the issue on missed appointments.

Sonny James, who along with his wife and the staff of his law practice spearheaded the fundraising drive, said Thursday a lack of cooperation from Salvation Army officials means he won’t be ringing bells in the cold this year. Local efforts raised almost $30,000 in contributions.

“Last year, we were overwhelmed by the wonderful, generous outpouring of contributions, may of which were from individuals that may have needed assistance themselves, but who wanted to give to others,” James said.

But, when asked when this year’s annual drive was set to begin, James said it was with “deep regret” that he and his wife were no longer participating in the drive – thus, no one is organizing a local drive. When asked why, James said it was because the charitable organization had not “lived up to its end of the bargain” in establishing a manned service center in Covington County, among other reasons.

However, James said the biggest factor in his decision was the lack of SA assistance given to local residents.

“I still very much believe in the message of the Salvation Army, but I feel that the representations made by the Salvation Army were not met,” James said. “We basically wanted accountability and were promised it, but when we got there, all we got was conflicts and promises. It was represented that every dime collected comes back to Covington County for those in need, which was important to a lot people and what I represented (to others).

“Someone has to be accountable, and we wanted to see how the money was being spent,” he said. “I think I asked too many questions.”

In addition to monies collected during the Red Kettle Drive, James said he and local estate attorney Rick Clifton were able to secure a more than $75,000 “gift” through an estate, which was designated strictly for Covington County services.

James said he was told the local service center would be open by March 1 and manned two days per week. Located in office space in the Northside Office Park on U.S. Hwy. 29 North near the Maddox Insurance Agency building, the center was opened in June and is now supposedly manned each Wednesday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

Yesterday, there was a sign placed on the office door stating that no appointments would be made until January. It is believed the sign was placed there earlier this week. Like before, residents must now travel to the Ozark branch to apply for assistance.

But a representative of the Salvation Army said the organization’s hours are adequate, and it can’t afford to keep the office open four hours per week because too many people seeking help have missed appointments.

Brenda Ferqueron, area director for the Salvation Army, said the office was opened in June because of the “overwhelming response” in last year’s Red Kettle drive.

That office, which was open by appointment only, is now closed for appointments until January.

“When we first opened, we started out with two days a week, and in fact, were there a lot more than that,” Ferqueron said. “But we’d have people make appointments and not keep them. We can’t afford to have our staff sitting around and people not show up.

“It’s not good business,” she said.

Locals can still call 334-222-0112 if needing assistance. Calls are forwarded to the Ozark office, Ferqueron said.

She did not comment on the lack of a local Red Kettle Drive. Instead, she sent a release from the organization’s media relations department, which stated:

“The Salvation Army is working every day to alleviate suffering in Andalusia and across Alabama. The work performed by the staff and volunteers of the Salvation Army is dependant solely upon the generous support of the community. This holiday season, due to a shortage of volunteers and the increase demand on Salvation Army staff, the Salvation Army’s Red Kettles in Andalusia have not been out collecting much needed donations.

“Over the last 12 months, the Salvation Army has seen a 20 percent increase in services as well as providing relief and recovery support in disaster stricken communities across Alabama. Social workers continue to provide financial support once per week in Andalusia. Donations are needed to continue meeting needs across Alabama and in Andalusia.”

According to a financial sheet given to James by Salvation Army officials, at the end of September, there was $56,100 “in the bank” after paying nearly $18,000 in salaries and benefits and nearly $6,000 in office expenses.

James said after the local office opened, he was promised a meeting with SA officials and their accountant on Aug. 31, but that meeting never took place.

“My point is this – the Kettle program is advertised and represented as a program that returns all of the money received through the program back to the county where it was collected,” he said. “(From the beginning) I made it very clear to the area director on numerous occasions that I intended to hold the organization accountable for its representation concerning the program, as our reputations as members of the community and as attorneys in this county were very much at stake,” he said.

“I got a lot of personal feel good-ness out of what was accomplished last year,” he said. “I hated for it to turn out like this now.”

Donations to the Salvation Army can be made online at or by calling 1-800 Sal-ARMY. Ferqueron said all funds raised will be utilized to meet needs in the service area of the designation by the donor.”