There is no clearer harbinger of Christmas than a Red Kettle suspended from a tripod and presided over by a Salvation Army member who is gripping the bell’s handle and shaking it to all the holiday rhythms.
The kettles were the brainchild of compassionate Salvation Army Captain Joseph McFee, who was determined to provide Christmas dinner to 1,000 of the most impoverished people in San Francisco in 1891. He had no funds, but he did remember the big pots in Liverpool, England, that were placed strategically where passengers unloaded from ships. He built a kettle empire of faith and compassion from that memory, and they now assist millions of people year-round.
COVID-19 caught everyone off guard in 2020. The Salvation Army fared a bit better than other charitable organizations because they had an ear to the ground and interpreted the signals.
They watched COVID sneak into town. They saw it bring business closures, job layoffs and losses, more online shopping, and less foot traffic passing kettles. They predicted the number of their kettles could be cut by as much as 50%. They knew they were looking at a greater need and were being challenged to fill it with fewer resources. Entrances to some big-box stores weren’t recognizable without the traditional bell ringers greeting customers. They felt certain the Salvation Army would be called upon to assist an increase of 155 percent more people for Christmas.
The huge charity decided to begin its fundraising efforts earlier and, wherever possible, stretch the creative envelope.
They felt certain they could count on the Red Kettle Challenge for the third consecutive year. They weren’t disappointed.
Lewisville Mayor Rudy Durham stepped forward and issued a challenge (friendly, of course) to Flower Mound Mayor Steve Dixon and Highland Village Mayor Charlotte Wilcox. The challenge? Which of the three could ring in the most money during the annual Red Kettle campaign.
Durham experienced COVID first hand over New Year’s. He’s also gone through battles with cancer. Those pre-existing conditions kept him away from face-to-face bell ringing, but he made up for it through his virtual participation. His entire staff was out there bell-ringing in person, with two people per shift.
“I really don’t like saying Lewisville was the winner,” said Durham, “because the Salvation Army and the people they assist are the real winners. It’s an extremely satisfying feeling to know you helped make someone’s Christmas more joyful.
“Lewisville and neighboring cities are also winners. The Salvation Army has been an outstanding community partner for us for many years.”
Lewisville, Flower Mound, and Highland Village also enjoy a long history of partner projects. Their long-standing spirit of cooperation made them natural companions for the Christmas bell ringing.
Steve Thomas, executive director of the Lewisville Salvation Army, set his 2020 Red Kettle goal at $130,000, which was $4,000 more than the previous year.
“We were at slightly less than $100,000 on December 18. How in the world were we going to get the remaining $30,000 in just seven days?” Thomas said. “We knew two things: We intended to try as hard as we could and rely on God to do the rest.”
On December 25, the kettles overflowed with $197,000! That’s $97,000 in seven days! And that’s $67,000 more than the original goal!
“It’s a beautiful thing to see mayors, police chiefs, fire chiefs, city managers, and so many more from the cities ringing those bells,” Thomas said. “ There were individuals with huge donations. Companies got involved. Everybody just came together and Made Christmas for a lot of families.”
There is no doubt Captain Joseph McFee is bursting with pride over how far his humble kettles have come and how far those ringing bells are heard.
photo courtesy of Stephen Thomas