Red Kettle Bell Ringers

Historical black and white photo of a Salvation Army bell ringer

“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: ‘God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail, with peace on earth, good-will to men.’” – Henry Longfellow, “Christmas Bells”

The Salvation Army Red Kettle Campaign is a continuation of a fight that began more than a century ago.

In 1891, unable to bear the pain of seeing so many hungry and destitute people throughout his city, Salvation Army Captain Joseph McFee resolved to find a way to provide a free Christmas dinner for every poverty-stricken individual in San Francisco. He had only one major hurdle to overcome: funding the project.

After great prayer and pondering about how he might feed over 1,000 people on Christmas Day, he remembered a large iron kettle back home in Liverpool known as “Simpson's Pot,” into which passersby would throw in spare change to help the poor.

The next day, he placed a similar pot at the Oakland Ferry Landing at the foot of Market Street in San Francisco. Beside it, he placed a sign reading, “Keep the Pot Boiling.” The Red Kettle was born. And soon, he had collected enough money to fund his Christmas feast.

Within 10 years, the kettle idea spread from the West Coast to the East Coast, and soon after that, all across the world – to Korea, Japan, Chile, and many European countries. Over time, the addition of a volunteer bell ringer at each kettle helped garner attention for the lifesaving work of The Salvation Army.

African American Bell ringer

“People are hungry, people are going without a place to sleep at night, they are out in the cold during the winter months, and we have a responsibility to help them get back on their feet.”

Today, bell ringers from all walks of life continue to brave the cold and the crowds at Christmastime, united in their resolve to help the less fortunate members of their communities.

Man in Santa outfit ringing the bell and waving a child

“We welcome anyone and everyone who is willing to ring that bell at the kettle to help us through our bell-ringing season to fund our initiatives and programs throughout the year.”

More than a century after their inception, the kettles and bells have become an integral part of the overall holiday vernacular. If you ask anyone what comes to mind when they hear the words “The Salvation Army” during the holidays, they’ll say one of two things: “bell ringers” or “red kettles.” Even the famous Christmas carol “Silver Bells” was inspired by the sound of volunteers ringing Salvation Army bells around Christmastime.

Young girl putting in money into a red kettle during Christmas

“It’s part of Christmas. It’s part of the community, it’s part of spreading the gospel.”

In its milestone 125th year, The Red Kettle Campaign of 2015 set a new national fundraising record. Some 25,000 bell ringers of all ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds – along with numerous corporate partners – raised $149.6 million for the campaign, with all money going to work directly in the community where it was raised.

Girl eating a meal at the Salvation Army

“Every little dollar that someone puts in is going to be put to good use.”

In addition to providing assistance throughout the holiday season, donations helped The Salvation Army provide more than 10 million nights of shelter; over 55 million meals; and funding for substance abuse recovery, after-school programs, and emergency shelter for children and families in need year-round.

Salvation Army bell ringer

“If you’re wondering why someone is ringing the bell, it’s because they want to make a difference.”

With a bell as our battle cry, The Salvation Army Red Kettles continue to fund the fight to deliver spiritual light and love to almost 25 million people each year – people who might otherwise be forgotten, but shall never go unserved.