Salvation Army Lt. Matt Cunningham stood in his full uniform on the roof of the Slack Auto Parts store on Main Street, playing Christmas carols on his baritone horn as he waited to lower his red bucket to the sidewalk for donations.
Until he raises $10,000, the roof is his home. The charitable organization’s annual Kettle Drive is five days shorter this year and the local Salvation Army office hopes to help more than 700 families this Christmas. The office serves Hall, Forsyth, Dawson, Lumpkin, Banks and Barrow counties. It expects to help more families at Christmastime this year than last year, Cunningham said.
“The face of need has changed,” he said. “There’s no typical face of need anymore.”
Maria Campa’s three children will receive gifts this year because of the nonprofit. They received presents last year, too. A single mother, Campa works for minimum wage after she lost her house and good-paying job more than a year ago. The Gainesville resident and her children were homeless for a year and a half and stayed in the Salvation Army’s shelter for two months until they found a place to live in September. She’s worked as a cashier since August and said things are getting better.
“They’ve helped me a lot,” she said. “I’m very grateful that I could trust them.”
The unemployment rate in metro Gainesville is 6.6 percent, quite low relative to other areas in Georgia, said Jeff Humphreys, director of the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University Center of Georgia. The state has replaced only a third of the jobs it lost during the economic crisis. The recovery’s almost 3 years old and while the private sector is expanding, the public sector is shrinking and loaded with debt, from the federal government to local governments, Humphreys said.
“We (the state of Georgia) don’t replace the jobs we lost until 2015 or 2016,” he said.
Real estate developer Frank Norton Jr., CEO of the Norton Agency, said there’s still pockets of unemployment and underemployment in the area, which puts stress on the social network. Cunningham, who has worked at the Salvation Army for more than four years, said the office helped more than 14,000 people with rent, utilities, food and clothing in its last fiscal year.
“It’s not as easy as it used to be,” Cunningham said.
This is the first time he’s done a fundraiser like this. His wife, Danielle, also works for the Salvation Army as a lieutenant and the couple has two children. Cunningham brought a hammock, sleeping bag, chair and extra layers of clothing for when it gets cold. He said he hopes to come down from the roof by Wednesday at the latest.
“We’re busy so she wants me down as quick as possible,” he said.
He’s selling long-sleeve T-shirts and hoodies from his rooftop perch and lowering his kettle to accept donations from people walking by. Every donation he collects or that refers to his fundraiser is counted toward him. As of 4 p.m. Monday, Cunningham had raised $361.
“My job doesn’t stop because I’m up here,” he said.
Donations can be made at www.onlineredkettle.org/gainesvillega.