Dozens of smiling snowmen are greeting shoppers and mall walkers at Washington Crown Center.
The Snowman Trail is a line of about 70 snowmen made out of repurposed materials, that are helping the Salvation Army raise funds for the annual Red Kettle campaign.
Washington Salvation Army Capt. Amber Imhoff said because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they knew they wouldn’t be able to have as many bell ringers for the December campaign.
“In years past, we’ve had a lot of senior citizens that ring bells for us and a lot of families that ring,” Imhoff said. “A lot of people are just staying home this year, but the need is much greater.”
Last year, the local Salvation Army helped 167 households with Thanksgiving dinner, but this year, they helped more than 700. They already have more than 700 households signed up for Christmas help.
“Last year, we did 606 households when the season was over, but I still have a couple weeks to go,” Imhoff said. “So the need is still there, and we’re still fighting for good.”
They have more than 1,200 children on their continuously growing list for Christmas toys. Last year, they purchased toys for about 1,200 children.
“We’re still taking Christmas help applications, so the fact that we’re already at that point means we’ll probably be much higher than normal,” Imhoff said.
With such a great need in the community, volunteers with the Salvation Army brainstormed for ways to ensure the Red Kettle campaign still brought in funds, despite having fewer bell ringers.
Imhoff said they usually raise about $90,000 through that campaign, but this year, they lowered the goal to $65,000 because they knew people are struggling financially.
“It’s crucial that we raise that money this year because our budget is based on the numbers we did last year,” she said.
They decided to have a snowman building contest, in which businesses, nonprofits, daycares, scout groups, schools, families and individuals could submit a 3- to 7-foot snowman built out of recycled or repurposed materials.
“The thought was that everybody has something at home that they can use to build a snowman,” Imhoff said.
The snowmen, who line the main hallway space in Crown Center, were set up by their individual creators Monday and will remain there throughout the campaign, which ends Dec. 21. Some famous characters from Disney’s “Frozen” stopped by the mall to check out the snowmen from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday. They’ll likely return at the same time Dec. 16, Imhoff said.
People can vote for their favorite snowman display by making a donation with the display number on their envelope, or by making a credit card donation using a QR code at the bottom of each display. Within the first 24 hours, the snowmen raised more than $500, and that doesn’t include any cash or check donations, Imhoff said.
“We’re excited about it,” she said. “We’re hoping that because the mall hallways are wide enough and people can come and go, that it’s a good socially distanced activity for people, and families will come out and vote. We’re hopeful that we can make up the difference with the Snowman Trail.”
Imhoff said Crown Center has been “phenominal” to work with and that she hopes the displays will encourage folks to do some Christmas shopping at the stores there. She said they’d like to do it again next year.
“We’d like to make it a family tradition,” she said. “People have really enjoyed it and said they had fun building them.”