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Salvation Army is celebrating 125 years of using red kettles

As shoppers enter and leave 62 Spokane businesses from Nov. 20 to Dec. 24, they hear the sound of ringing bells, inviting them to drop donations in red kettles for the Salvation Army.

This year is the 125th anniversary of the Red Kettle program, which brings in $400,000 to support Salvation Army programs all year in Spokane, said Dan Curley, development director.

Today, donations to kettles at Christmas help support nearly 30 million people served by shelters, after-school and addiction-recovery programs, summer camps, disaster relief and other social services, he said, adding that the army employs 200 low-income people and has several hundred volunteers ring bells.

The idea began in 1891, when Captain McFee in San Francisco wanted to serve a free Christmas dinner to the poor.  From his days as a sailor, he remembered large pots for charitable donations on the pier in Liverpool, England. With permission from authorities, he put a similar pot at the Oakland Ferry Landing at the foot of Market Street, so people going to and from the ferries could see it. He thus launched the tradition that has spread around the United States and world.

By Christmas 1895, 30 Salvation Army locations on the West Coast used kettles. The Sacramento Bee described the Army’s Christmas activities and mentioned the street-corner kettles, Dan said.

Then two young Salvation Army officers instrumental in using the kettles, William McIntyre and N.J. Lewis, were transferred to the East, and took the idea there. In 1897, McIntyre prepared Christmas kettle plans for Boston, but other officers refused to cooperate for fear of “making spectacles of themselves,” Dan said. So McIntyre, his wife and sister set up three kettles in the heart of the city. Kettle efforts in Boston and other locations nationwide resulted in 150,000 Christmas dinners for the needy.

In 1898, The New York World hailed the kettles as “the newest, most novel device for collecting money,” adding that a man is in charge so contributions are not stolen.  In 1901, kettle donations in New York City provided funds for the first mammoth sit-down dinner in Madison Square Garden, a custom that continued for many years, said Dan

Kettles are now online and at sites in countries such as Korea, Japan and Chile, many European countries and Australia. Online Red Kettles make donating simpler and have raised millions of dollars in the past seven years.

This year, The Salvation Army encourages people to share their reasons for making donations at #RedKettleReason. It’s a chance for people to share how their donations are making a difference, Dan said.

“Contributions to kettles enable The Salvation Army to bring the spirit of Christmas to those who would otherwise be forgotten all year— to the aged and lonely, the ill, the inmates of jails and other institutions, the poor and unfortunate,” said Dan.

In the United States, kettles, although changed since the first utilitarian cauldron in San Francisco, help make it possible for the Salvation Army to serve 30 million people each year.

For information, call 329-2732.



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