You know the holidays are here when the jingle-jangle of Salvation Army bell ringers fills the air.
The Kettle Campaign kicked off locally Friday with nine locations: Bonita Lakes Mall entrances as well as Dillards and JCPenney, Piggly Wiggly Grocery, both Winn-Dixie locations and Hudson Dirt Cheap. Additional locations will open next week at Sam's Club, Walmart in Meridian (both locations), Newton and Philadelphia, Walgreens (both locations) and Big Lots.
Nationwide, the perennial holiday event is the Salvation Army's largest fundraiser, and most visible. Last year, $109,000 was raised; a goal of $125,000 has been set for this year's campaign.
"We use the money for Christmas, but it also helps us operate year round with other programs, such as our Men's Shelter and emergency services," said Major Ed Strong of the local SA affiliate
Applicants receive food gift cards to prepare a Christmas dinner, as well as clothing and toys for children up to age 17. Clothing and toys are provided through The Angel Tree Program, which also kicked off Friday.
The Angel Tree Program allows donors to choose to a child to help make their Christmas a little brighter.
"It's a little more personal," Strong said.
Children's names are listed on paper angels which hang from a tree. The angels include the child's age, sex, clothing and shoe sizes as well as a brief wish list for toys and other items.
"The donor buys whatever they want for the child," he said. "We get it in, get it packaged and sorted by families. Everything bought for a particular child goes to that child."
Angel Trees are located at Citizen's National Bank branches, Goody's and Chunky River Harley-Davidson.
In addition to donations, The Salvation Army also seeks volunteers to man the kettles, Angle Tree and distribution of food gift cards, clothing and toys to families.
"We encourage individuals as well as church groups and businesses to man the kettle, and the Angel Tree would especially be good for senior citizens because they can sit down and don't have to be outdoors," Strong said.
Businesses can also participate in the Kettle Campaign by matching a kettle take.
"The business can select a certain kettle on a particular day and agree to match the kettle's earnings up to a certain amount," he said.
In 1891, Salvation Army Captain Joseph McFee was distraught because so many poor individuals in San Francisco were going hungry. During the holiday season, he resolved to provide a free Christmas dinner for the destitute and poverty-stricken. He only had one major hurdle to overcome – funding the project.
Where would the money come from, he wondered. He lay awake nights, worrying, thinking, praying about how he could find the funds to fulfill his commitment of feeding 1,000 of the city's poorest individuals on Christmas Day. As he pondered the issue, his thoughts drifted back to his sailor days in Liverpool, England. He remembered how at Stage Landing, where the boats came in, there was a large, iron kettle called "Simpson's Pot" into which passers-by tossed a coin or two to help the poor.
The next day McFee placed a similar pot at the Oakland Ferry Landing at the foot of Market Street. Beside the pot, he placed a sign that read, "Keep the Pot Boiling." He soon had the money to see that the needy people were properly fed at Christmas.
Six years later, the kettle idea spread from the west coast to the Boston area. That year, the combined effort nationwide resulted in 150,000 Christmas dinners for the needy. In 1901, kettle contributions in New York City provided funds for the first mammoth sit-down dinner in Madison Square Garden, a custom that continued for many years. Today in the U.S., The Salvation Army assists more than four-and-a-half million people during the Thanksgiving and Christmas time periods.
McFee's kettle idea launched a tradition that has spread not only throughout the United States, but all across the world. Kettles are now used in such distant lands as Korea, Japan, Chile and many European countries.
Want to help?
Volunteers are needed by the local Salvation Army this holiday season for the following:
• Angel Tree Workers, Nov. 23-Dec. 8
• Volunteer Bell Ringers, Nov. 12-Dec. 24
• Christmas Distribution, Dec. 19, 20,and 21
Individuals and groups (families, school groups, church groups, civic groups, scouting groups, businesses, etc.) who want to be included on he volunteer list to take one or several days at one or more Red Kettle locations. call (601) 483-6156