The Christmas season means many things to many different people. One of the background sounds and sights during the season is the Salvation Army bell ringing campaign. Over the weekend I visited two Cub grocery stores in two very different parts of the Twin Cities area – on in a more affluent town than the other. But one thing was the same: neither store had someone ringing a bell. It really shocked me to see this twice in one weekend. It seems to me that I noticed the silence more than I would have noticed the ringing. At the first store, I remember thinking that I should grab some change out of the cubby in my car so that I would have something to put in the kettle. When I stood up outside of my car, the silence told me that it might not matter. It was not until I came closer to the store that I saw the kettle without its ringer.
Where have all the bell ringers gone?
I have heard of people donating their lunch break times – skipping the lunch itself – to ring bells. One of our children’s Sunday School teachers always had the kids ring bells for a Saturday morning shift. Even when she no longer taught the class, she would round up some kids that she knew and take them to ring bells. It was not until we moved to the Twin Cities that I even knew that people could volunteer their time to do this. I think there must be something wrong with me…how could I not have figured that out? Where did I think that the bell ringers came from?
I did a little research on the history and decided simply to cut and paste a huge box of information from the Salvation Army website:
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 Captain 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.
Captain 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. Everywhere, public contributions to Salvation Army kettles enable the organization to continue its year-round efforts at helping those who would otherwise be forgotten.
I did learn in my research that there is now an online drive – the Online Red Kettle Campaign. I think that is very cool, but it is not quite the same. Is it?
Something that must be concern started to stir inside of me when both of the grocery stores had no bell ringers to watch over the kettles. One – in a less affluent part of town – did not even have its kettle out. The need is great right now. More people seem to be without while those who have seem to be having less…and less to share with anyone else. One shift ringing bells could make a different in someone’s life.
Who will watch the kettles?
Where are the bell ringers?
And why am I not ringing the bells right now?