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Feeding Those Holiday Red Kettles

They’re out there again!

Those red kettle bell ringers are stationed once again at every entrance of all the department stores in the land. Shuffling from foot to foot, they try to stay warm, keep those bells ringing, and greet all the passersby.

When I was a young adult, fresh out of college, I used to walk a wide circle around them. I’d make careful maneuvers to avoid passing by them, even to the extent of parking strategically and entering buildings by an alternate door or side entrance.

My thinking was somewhere along the lines of “If you don’t encourage them, eventually they’ll go away.”

Nowadays, though, don’t ask me for a coin for the parking meter. In fact, don’t ask me for any pocket change anytime during late November or December. I won’t have any.

You see, I’ve been converted. I’m compelled to drop my coins in those buckets.

For whatever reason, when my four children were little I started giving them my coins to drop into those kettles whenever we passed by them. Although that silly bell ringing still annoyed me, it attracted the children. They were determined to understand why those guys were standing and shivering there by those red kettles, ringing their bells.

To the best of my own understanding at the time, I explained to my little ones that those people were collecting money to help the poor. Seeing others putting coins into the bucket, my children wanted to do the same. And so, we emptied out my wallet there into the bucket. We did so every time we passed a bucket after that, too, whether I had plenty of change or just two nickels.

My kids are all grown up now and are giving their children all their coinage for those red buckets. Seeing the joy on the children’s faces as they drop those coins one by one into the kettles is priceless. Somehow they instinctively know they are doing a good thing.

Who are those bell ringers, anyway?

They work or volunteer for the Salvation Army. The Salvation Army is a Christian movement active in 124 countries around the world. According to the message of the Bible, the organization is dedicated to sharing the love of Jesus by caring for the needs of the poor, creating pathways for people to have faith in Jesus Christ, building communities, and working for societal justice.

The Salvation’s bell ringing season starts each November and runs through Christmas Eve, when the red kettles are packed away for the season.

Salvation Army Captain Joseph McFee placed the very first red kettle in 1891 at the Oakland Ferry Landing at the foot of Market Street in San Francisco. He was distraught because so many poor individuals in his city were going hungry, and he wanted to do something about it.

Since then the kettle idea has spread across the country and the world. Kettle proceeds enable the Salvation Army to assist more than 4 ½ million people during the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons. Additionally worldwide contributions to Salvation Army kettles fund year-round efforts at helping those who would otherwise be forgotten.

Yesterday, I dropped all the change from my wallet into the bell ringer’s bucket outside our local Wal-Mart. The tradition continues for me, another holiday season upon us.

$1.46 went into that bucket. Why I counted it, I have no idea. It’s certainly not a lot of money, and as I walked away from the kettle afterwards, I felt a little bad about that.

$1.46 is not enough for a full meal for one person.

It’s not enough for one warm pair of socks for a homeless person.

It’s not near enough to pay for the resources needed to rescue one victim of trafficking.

It’s not enough to dig a water well in a country having no clean drinking water.

It’s not enough to provide a Bible to one seeker.

It’s not enough to send a missionary to a village that has never heard the good news about Jesus.

It’s just not much.

I was about to convince myself that my little donation was useless, and then I was reminded of some Bible verses I had just read earlier that morning. In the book of Exodus, I had just read about the Israelite people receiving detailed directions from God (through Moses) on how to build the Tabernacle. This was no small project. In fact, the Tabernacle they were to build would be the very place where God’s presence would be housed.

The people were instructed to contribute to the work effort by using their own personal talents and skills, and to donate to the supplies by bringing whatever resources they were willing to bring.

Many of the Israelites were willing, and many were generous with their stuff. In fact, here’s what happened:

“Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: ‘No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.’ And so the people were restrained from bringing more, because what they already had was more than enough to do all the work.” (Exodus 36:6-7, italics mine)

Is it possible that someday the red kettles will be replaced with signs like this:




Could it happen?

I’d love to see it.

For that reason, I’ll continue dropping in my coins, however many coins I have, however many coins it takes, for however many holiday seasons it takes.

And oh – thank you to all those red kettle bell ringers. It’s cold out there.

(Excerpted from my book Risking It All: One Woman's Adventure Giving Away Her Income, available on Study guide available also.)

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