The sagging economy has even affected Salvation Army bell ringers, who provide familiar sights and sounds during the holiday season.
In anticipation of another tough year - with more people needing help and fewer able to contribute - Jay Davis at the Christian charity's Des Plaines office is making an early request for more volunteers to man the red kettles where passers-by drop coins and other donations.
Other area Salvation Army offices are also looking early for volunteers and even companies to sponsor kettles.
Davis wants volunteers to assume more duties to free up money and other resources.
"The economic times haven't been like this for some time," he said. "The need is great, and it's not just for the Salvation Army."
His office is trying to double its efforts this holiday season, so saving money on paid workers would help that endeavor.
The charity relies on volunteer bell ringers, but the Des Plaines-based chapter has in past seasons hired around 35 paid ringers at $8 an hour. Those jobs are often filled by teens looking for extra money for gift-giving but also go to those unemployed and homeless.
"We don't plan to cut back our services," Davis said. "We plan to meet a greater need."
At the Salvation Army office in Oakbrook Terrace, officials are seeking corporate sponsorships for the kettles.
"We're doing something a little different here," said Sue Linden, the office's resource development director.
For a donation, a company can have advertising near the kettles for a certain number of days. Linden first approached businesses in August and has already lined up two sponsors: Mister Z Super Market in Lombard, which has agreed to a $3,500 donation for all 35 days of the campaign, and the International Body Shop in Elmhurst, which is paying $300 for three days of sponsorship.
The Elgin chapter is also looking for volunteers and sponsors, said Ken Nicolai. Paying bell ringers is "a good and bad thing," he said, because many people who fill those jobs are themselves needy. But paying them take away money from other Salvation Army services.
"With the need they way it is, we need ever dollar we can get to give people directly," he said.
Another difficulty is that some people who'd like to volunteer are hesitant to commit, as they're unsure if they'll be employed, Nicolai said.
"You have to take care of basic needs before you can give to other causes," he said.
Nicolai stressed that interested volunteers should contact the charity as early as possible to give officials time to sort through the applications.
"We just can't give a bell and bucket to anybody," Nicolai.
The Red Kettle campaign started in 1865. This season, it launches nationwide on Nov. 13 and lasts through Christmas Eve.
Normally, Davis said, he'd wait until November to find volunteers, but the economy has forced his hand. Nationwide, the Salvation Army had 3.4 million volunteers in 2006, according to its Web site.
For information volunteering through the Des Plaines office, call (847) 981-9111.
For information on corporate sponsorships in DuPage County, call Linden by calling her at (630) 808-4165.
In the Elgin area, call (847) 741-2304.
For other opportunities to volunteer or donate in the Chicago area, go to salarmychicago.org. Other area offices include those in Aurora, Waukegan and St. Charles.