12/03/06 — Salvation Army starts bell-ringing campaign

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Salvation Army starts bell-ringing campaign

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on December 3, 2006 2:00 AM

One winter's day in 1891, a young Salvation Army captain in San Francisco wanted to serve a free Christmas meal to the city's poor, but he had no way to pay for the food.

Then he recalled his days as a sailor in Liverpool, England, where he remembered seeing passersby putting their charitable contributions into a large pot they called "Simpson's Pot."

The captain, Joseph McFee, got permission to place a similar pot at San Francisco's Oakland ferry landing. And so was born the Salvation Army's Christmas Kettle Campaign.

That first pot was not the familiar red kettle, but a huge black cauldron, Goldsboro Salvation Army commander Maj. Andrew Wiley said.

Today, kettles are used throughout the United States and in Korea, Japan, Chile and many European countries.

Goldsboro has seven kettle locations this year -- Sam's Club, Big Lots, Goody's, Michael's, JCPenney at the mall, Kmart and both entrances of Wal-Mart.

The kettle campaign began the day after Thanksgiving and will continue through Dec. 23, Wiley said. This year's kettle campaign goal is $42,000. The money helps pay for toys for children and food for needy families during the holidays.

Last year, the kettle campaign raised about $41,000, enabling the Salvation Army to give 400 families a Christmas that they otherwise would not have had.

Christmas shoppers will hear the familiar ring of the bells Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The kettles are staffed mainly by volunteers, but if enough people don't volunteer, paid staff has to be used.

Several local groups ring the bells year after year, including the Golden K Kiwanis. They can be found every Saturday at Kmart, Wiley said. "They've done it for years. They get to get out and see people that they know."

Some school clubs also ring the bells.

"A lot of times young people live and move in their own world and don't realize that not everybody has what they have," Wiley said. "They take a day and go out and ring the bell and realize there is a need, not just for that day. And hopefully it will instill in them, as they become adults and leaders of our community, to be givers."

Many who have rung the bell for the Salvation Army have heard the story of the "donut huts." It's told over and over by older retired military veterans.

During World War I, the Salvation Army had what it called "lassies," Salvation Army ladies who would be on the front lines in Europe. They set up primitive huts where the soldiers, when they came off the front lines, would go in and eat doughnuts the lassies had made for them and drink a little coffee.

Since some of the soldiers couldn't read, the lassies would also read letters from home to them. If they wanted to write a letter home, they would tell the Salvation Army lassies what they wanted to say and the lassies would write it for them.

"A lot of the older retirees will come up and drop money into the Salvation Army kettle and say they remembered when the Salvation Army was on the front lines giving them doughnuts," Wiley said.

Barbara Ann Vinson has been a kettle campaign volunteer for six years as part of the Goldsboro Bridge Club contingent.

"I enjoy seeing the people. It gives me the Christmas spirit," she said. "The people that you would least expect to give, do. People come out in mink coats and don't want to give. Then others who look like they can hardly afford their next meal do give."

Her partner is usually fellow club member Tommy Franklin, who has been ringing the bell for about four years.

Franklin proudly noted that several times on the day that the bridge club has rung the bell at a kettle, that was the highest day of proceeds.

Although volunteers man the kettles, it's the Salvation Army staff that is responsible for taking the bells to their locations, checking on them throughout the day and picking the kettles back up at the end of the day.

Bells are used year after year, Wiley said, but occasionally they wear out and have to be replaced through a supplier in Atlanta. When not being used, the bells are stored in the Salvation Army's warehouse.

"Then just a few weeks prior to the start of the next season, we pull them out, dust them off, give them a good polish and get them all ready to go back out," Wiley said.

"I'm amazed at the number of people who will pass the kettle and comment that they know it's Christmas when they hear the bell. For a lot of people, it's a part of Christmas and they look for that. It's just become a part of who we are and what we do this time of year."