Salvation Army bell-ringers ask: Cash or credit?

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SCRANTON, Pa. -- The familiar sound of kettle bells synonymous with the holiday season will be accompanied by a new sound this year: the swipe of plastic cards.

As part of its effort to make it more convenient for people to donate, the Salvation Army Scranton Corps' annual kettle drive is going digital -- accepting credit and debit cards at three area locations.

"It's been in the making for a little more than a year now," Capt. James Kisser said. "We had to adjust to the times. More people are carrying plastic than ever before."

Starting Friday, wireless credit card machines will be attached to four kettle tripod stands in the area -- two at a Walmart and one at a Sam's Club. The final machine isn't working yet, and the destination for it hasn't been determined.

The initiative comes as a response to the increasing number of people who ditch change and dollar bills for plastic cards -- a change in society that has negatively impacted collections in recent years, Mr. Kisser said.

"It has become much more difficult to collect change and bills from shoppers because they aren't carrying cash anymore," Mr. Kisser said. "We've had to adjust. This is pretty cutting-edge technology."

Connected to an anti-theft recoiler system, the wireless credit card machines are the safest and most secure and reliable machines available, he said.

He acknowledged that people will have their doubts, but said no credit card information is stored on the wireless machine. Instead, he said, all funds are directly deposited into a bank account, and both the donor and Salvation Army will receive a receipt of the transaction.

"It's just like when ATMs first came out, and there was some concern regarding them," said Mr. Kisser, who couldn't provide the name of the bank the Salvation Army is working with. "It will take time, but eventually, I think it will be accepted by everyone."

For users, the process is simple. All people have to do is slide their card and enter the amount of money they want to donate.

Then, at the end of the day, officials just have to "take it back to headquarters, connect to the Internet, hit a couple buttons and then transfer it to the bank account," Mr. Kisser said.

"Even the Salvation Army is jumping into the computer age," he said.

And the switch couldn't have come at a more opportune time.

Facing its highest demand in years, the local branch is hoping to raise at least $175,000 to sustain its programs, from holiday toys to family feasts.

"When you boil that down, that's about $5,000 a day," Mr. Kisser said. "We know it's an ambitious goal, but with turkey prices up 25 percent and the county's high unemployment rate, more families are relying on us. I want to make sure every child has a toy and every family is fed.

"This new technology gives us a better chance to do both."

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