By Jim Sullivan
---- — NEWBURYPORT — With a late Thanksgiving comes a quick Christmas, and everyone is feeling the pinch, not the least of whom are the ones most in need.
"Since Thanksgiving was late, we started late," said Newburyport chapter Salvation Army Lt. Jeff Brunelle. "Because of that, right off the bat, we started the season $9,000 short. Every week, we have (also) been raising less than we did at this time last year at the kettles. So when you extrapolate that out, it looks to be about $23,000 that we expect to be short by Christmas."
The Salvation Army is not able to start its kettle drives until the week of Thanksgiving. Brunelle’s Newburyport chapter normally brings in $88,000 each holiday season to help fund its numerous programs for the rest of the year. Currently, it is pulling in a little more than $3,000 less each week, plus the $9,000 shortfall from the missed week in November.
"Last year, in the last week before Christmas, we got about $20,000 at the kettles, which is great," Brunelle said. "This year, if we even got that, we will still be $9,000 behind."
But it’s Christmastime, and all is not lost. Enter local businessman Ralph Castagna, president of Castagna Construction, who, when he heard of Brunelle’s fundraising troubles, reached out to his neighbors at the Newburyport Business and Industry Park to see if they could help make up the shortfall.
"Everyone sees them out there with the kettle drive," Castagna said of The Salvation Army. "And you can't help but be taken in with it. You see them ringing the bells everywhere, and when you will learn what to do, you want to be part of it.”
Sending out a weekly email blast since the beginning of the month, Castagna has been able to pull together a Christmas coalition of local businesses, including Chase and Lunt Insurance, Packaging Specialties, Label Print America, ITW Foils, Hero Coatings, Ultra Clad Corp., Bradford & Bigelow, Enpro Services and Alfa Laval. Other businesses have joined daily and put together an additional $15,000 for the Salvation Army’s cause so far.
"I really think it's a wonderful organization," Castagna said of The Salvation Army. "I feel an obligation to contribute to that organization and to help them out in any way that I can."
Castagna has been doing business in Newburyport since 1989 and has lived in town for the past eight years.
"I was raised by a middle-American, middle-income family, and donations were limited to what we can do," Castagna said. "But I've tried to give a little bit back to my community since I've had some success in business, and I just like this community. I'm happy here."
As the list of businesses keeps growing, the shortfall keeps shrinking, but as anyone with a Christmas list knows, time is running out.
"The monies that we raise at the bells stays in Newburyport," Brunelle said. "It doesn't go to Boston or any other communities; it goes right here and is used throughout the year. It's not just going to buy Christmas gifts for kids, it's helping people avoid eviction, helping people to put oil in the oil tank, helping to stock our food pantry, all the other programs that we offer throughout the year. Every dollar that we are short in the fundraising means fewer services that we can provide to the public."
The Newburyport Salvation Army offers numerous other services to people in the greater Newburyport area throughout the year, such as sending kids to summer camp and an after-school program that helps students with their homework and gives music instruction.
Brunelle said that people can give at the kettles through the end of the season, as well as at the Newburyport chapter’s website, www.onlineredkettle.org/give.
"We're hopeful that the community can help us finish our campaign strongly," Brunelle said. "Mr. Castagna and his other business partners have given us a wonderful boost in the right direction. But we are not there yet. It's a whole year of anti-poverty, anti-hunger, anti-homelessness programs that we offer not just in November and December, but all year long.”