It’s Red Kettle time again

Mary Perham

It’s a sure sign of the upcoming holidays – people bundled up against the chill, wearing big smiles and ringing a bell next to a very large red kettle.

The Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Drive is under way.

“There is always an outpouring of generosity,” Salvation Army Capt. John Merchant said. “People are just always more willing to give during this season.”

That spirit of giving to those less fortunate was apparent last year when the local Red Kettle drive collected $72,000 in Corning and Bath through bellringers, an on-line Red Kettle initiative and mailings, Merchant said.

Merchant was recently assigned Salvation Army operations in Hornell and hopes to collect $36,000 there during the Red Kettle campaign.  The goal for combined collections in Bath and Corning is $68,000.

As an added incentive, the national Salvation Army will contribute $1,000 to each local agency if they collect $5,000 from their kettle drives.

The local collections also provide for people in Steuben County, with 90 percent used for people in need, Merchant said. Some 10 percent is used for administration.

The funds collected are used in a variety of ways, including rent, utilities, medications, transportation, a clothing room and a food pantry, Merchant said.

The Corning branch runs a men’s club, a women’s club, Kid’s Café and a school age child care program. All programs are free except for extended hours during the agency’s eight-week summer program. Parents who drop their children off early or pick them up late at the summer program pay a flat fee of $8 a day regardless of the number of children enrolled.

The Kettle drive also funds food baskets and the Angel Tree gift project.

The need isn’t going away, Merchant said.

“Last year we started out knowing we had 350 food baskets (to prepare),” he said. “We picked up another 100 as time went on, ended with more than 550. This year we already have 450 applicants.”

The Salvation Army also distributed presents last year to more than 200 children, Merchant said.

Some 260 people now use the agency’s food pantry each month, with the clothing room giving away 3,000 items of apparel.

“You know that’s going to go up, with winter coming,” Merchant said.

The Salvation Army also is on the lookout for volunteer bell ringers. Typically 85 percent of the volunteers come back each year. That leaves a real need for others – if only to give a break to those who brave the elements more regularly, Merchant said.

Merchant’s pretty confident the agency will meet its goals, and looks forward to extending services to the Hornell area.

“My promise -- my promise -- is to do the most good to the most people with the money the community gives us,” he said. “I don’t want to deny anyone.”

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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.

Salvation Army web page.