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Shoppers carry holiday purchases as a band from the Salvation Army plays carols in New York's Herald Square on December 20, 2003. (CHIP EAST/REUTERS)
Shoppers carry holiday purchases as a band from the Salvation Army plays carols in New York's Herald Square on December 20, 2003. (CHIP EAST/REUTERS)

Salvation Army band banned from Toronto's Union Station Add to ...

The Salvation Army’s annual holiday fundraiser is not collecting at one of the city’s busiest, noisiest transportation hubs after its brass band was deemed “too loud,” the Salvation Army says.

And with only a few days left to donate, the Salvation Army’s Toronto campaign, which places those iconic red kettles throughout shopping malls and other high-traffic areas throughout the Christmas season, has collected about $250,000 less than it had at this time last year, according to Andrew Burditt, a spokesperson for the organization’s Toronto branch.

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The decline in donations could be due to several factors, including the loss of some of its usual high-traffic collection spots this year, such as Union Station, and people carrying around less pocket change, Mr. Burditt said.

For 50 years, the charity could place a brass band alongside its kettles in the station concourse to help attract donations. Officials did offer the charity the chance to set up kettles this year, Mr. Burditt said, but because the band could not be present, staff chose not to accept.

“They’re really what draws the positive attention,” he said.

Doug Reid, Toronto’s manager of customer support services, confirmed that the Salvation Army was ineligible to play instrumental music at Union Station. He said there were complaints about loud music in the station, and after a meeting with tenants the policy was created. “There are no instruments allowed in the GO concourse,” Mr. Reid said.

A spokesperson for Metrolinx, which runs GO transit, said they have enjoyed the band there in the past, but “we just want to make sure that it does not interfere with our passenger communications,” Malon Edwards said.

Mr. Burditt said he respects the facility’s policy, but it has had a significant financial impact, citing that donations can amount to $1,000 an hour at Union.

The Salvation Army, a Christian charitable organization that provides social services to millions of Canadians, says its yearly campaign that relies on people tossing spare change into hanging kettles may also be suffering because people often go “cashless” and only carry cards to make purchases. Mr. Burditt said people may want to donate but simply don’t have spare change.

“We have been told by people on the kettles that many will walk up, dig into their pockets to look for change or bills, not having any [and] apologetically shrug their shoulders, smile and move on,” he said.

Some donation stations, including ones in Ottawa, have allowed people to donate with debit or credit. John McAlister, Salvation Army’s national spokesperson, said it’s an option worth exploring, but the organization has to determine if it’s financially viable.

“We need to make sure that at the various locations, if they were to make use of different technology, that the costs that are incurred with that are certainly offset by the donations coming in,” he said.

Nationally, the charity aims to raise $21-million, but as of Friday it had brought in about $14-million, Mr. McAlister said.

If donations don’t pick up, some of the organization’s services, which include providing food, shelter and clothing to those in need in over 400 communities nationwide, may be at risk, he said.

“When we look at the money being down nationally, we can see that … there will be challenges continuing with some of those services,” he said. “We’re hoping that Canadians will step up and generously donate.”

As for the Toronto campaign, Mr. Burditt said it needs to raise another million dollars to reach the $3-million goal, but he is “cautiously optimistic” kettles will be filled and the target met by the Dec. 24 deadline.

“We have a big weekend left,” he said, “and we’re really, really hopeful that when people pass by the kettle, they’ll be generous.”

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