SEOUL, Dec. 9 (Yonhap) -- Cash and credit cards in the information technology powerhouse of South Korea are more versatile than in many other countries. Here, taxis carry card readers, and credit and transport cards allow people to pay fares for cabs, buses and subway trains without cash in their pockets. Just days ago, an additional function was added, for donations to charity.
The Salvation Army in Korea kicked off its annual "Red Kettle" holiday street campaign on Nov. 30 and set up its iconic donation buckets at about 300 places across the country. This year they included a new feature -- card readers.
Touch or swipe a card on the reader attached to the charity stand, and the machine will automatically take 2,000 won (US$ 1.8) from your account. If your card account includes a mobile phone number, you will be sent an automatic notification. Mobile phones with card functions work the same.
The Salvation Army in Korea introduced "digital" Red Kettle this year, allowing donors to contribute using their cash or credit cards. Each swipe automatically donates 2,000 won. (Yonhap file photo)
It is the first time the Salvation Army has introduced card payments at its local street collections, which are in their 84th year, although online donations have been able to be made with cards or mobile phones for some time.
People seem to approve of the new way of fund-raising.
Kim, a 51-year-old man, said it was a new experience for him. "While the card was passing through the reader, I felt a good touch on my fingertips," he said after making a donation in Myeong-dong, downtown Seoul.
Kim said allowing card payments was a good decision to keep up with changing lifestyles. "As the way of life of people evolves, the way of fund-raising needs to evolve, too," he said.
A donor in her 20s said she finds the new payment option convenient, as she sometimes runs out of cash in her purse because she uses cards more often. "It is a good idea to allow people to donate with cards," she said.
However, card donations may affect the tradition of anonymity, said another woman in her 50s. She said she is also afraid that the warm scene of people tossing spare change into the donation buckets might disappear.
Park Keun-il, who oversees a donation site in Myeong-dong, said the new payment system has received good responses. "At first, people were simply curious about the card payment system, but the number of donors using cards is increasing," he said. Nearly 50 people made donations using cards on Dec. 2 alone, he said, on the third day of the campaign.
He gave the example of a gentleman who was waiting for his car in front of the Hotel Lotte and wanted to donate 300,000 won with his credit card. As the card reader takes only 2,000 won per swipe, he had to touch the card to the reader multiple times. By the time his car arrived, his donation had only reached 200,000 won, so he also gave two 50,000 won bills.
Park said some people are calling to raise the payment unit for those who want to donate more than 10,000 won. It is not technically impossible, but the procedure is complex and the Salvation Army is developing ways for more convenient donations, according to Park, who works for the external cooperation team of the Salvation Army Officer Training College in Korea.
For those concerned about anonymity, a Salvation Army officer said the organization does not collect the personal information of donors, especially their names, but admitted it is theoretically possible to trace them.
He said there are still more cash donations than card payments, but the Salvation Army expects to raise about 200 million won through card payments from a target of 5 billion won from the campaign, which will continue through Christmas Eve.
The Salvation Army also sets up donation buckets at various facilities for children, including kindergartens, daycare centers and elementary schools, upon request, to teach children about sharing.
A special event is underway at the organization's Web site (www.jasunnambi.or.kr) as part of the campaign, providing donors who contribute more than 10,000 won online a chance to win items donated by celebrities.
The Red Kettle tradition started in the United States in 1891, when a Salvation Army captain in San Francisco, Joseph McFee, set up a pot at the Oakland Ferry Landing to raise money to provide Christmas dinners to the poor. In Korea, the campaign started in Myeong-dong in 1928 to offer meals to the homeless. Donations have increased over the years from 849 won in the first campaign to 4.9 billion won last year.
The largest single donation received by the street campaign was a 110-million-won check dropped in a bucket in Seoul by an anonymous donor last year. Others let their identities be known when donating large amounts of money, such as an elderly couple who visited the Salvation Army headquarters last year to donate 200 million won. Actor Song Seung-heon also donated 200 million won to be used for the victims of the 2011 earthquake in Fukushima, Japan.
The Salvation Army uses the donations for various programs including meals for the needy, medical support for children of underprivileged families, rehabilitation of the homeless and drug addicts, HIV/AIDS campaigns and assistance to other countries, including North Korea and Mongolia.
The people who brave the chilly weather to ring bells beside the donation spots are mostly volunteers. More than 3,000 volunteers serve in various programs run by the Salvation Army. Volunteers for the street campaign are recruited every November and are all aged 14 or older.