Every year, volunteers don red aprons and ring the familiar bell to solicit donations for The Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign. The campaign lasts from Thanksgiving Day to Christmas Eve. The red kettles and the experience of giving back is a staple of the holiday season. But where did the idea of the red kettle come from?
From the Beginning
The story of Joseph McFee and the red kettle from The Salvation Army’s website is told below.
“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.
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.’Where would the money come from?’ he wondered. He lay awake nights, worrying, thinking and 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.
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.”
The Digital Age of the Red Kettle
Now in its 128th year, the Red Kettle Campaign has adapted to the digital age. Many individuals still place dollars and coins into the red kettles at their local grocery or retail stores. They can also give by texting KETTLES to 91999. Amazon Alexa is getting in on the donating as well. New this year, those wishing to donate can say, “Alexa, donate to The Salvation Army” then specify an amount to give to the organization.