The Salvation Army’s annual Red Kettle Christmas Campaign began in 1891 when a Salvation Army captain in San Francisco set up a crab pot to collect money for the poor. The campaign has since become one of the longest-running and most recognizable fundraising efforts in the world. Red kettles are now used in many of the 133 countries The Salvation Army serves.
The organization expanded to Colorado Springs in 1889 and those red kettle bells have been ringing since shortly thereafter, bringing in a significant portion of the agency’s annual budget. Last year, more than 300 volunteers and a handful of paid bell ringers helped raise a record half million dollars.
What Do the Red Kettles Support?
Every dollar placed in the iconic red kettles goes to provide a night of shelter for a family experiencing homelessness, a meal for an isolated senior citizen, or even a food bag for a family struggling to make ends meet. The money stays right in El Paso County.
Each year, The Salvation Army provides nearly a half million services to individuals and families in our community. One in every 20 people in El Paso County are impacted by The Salvation Army's programs each year.
As the community’s only emergency family shelter, The Salvation Army R.J. Montgomery Family Hope Center is serving more families experiencing homelessness than ever before. The Salvation Army strives to break the cycle of poverty through its family shelter and numerous youth programs that provide more than 12,000 services to area children, including holiday assistance and back-to-school support.
Additionally, The Salvation Army operates one of Colorado’s largest Veteran Transitional Housing programs serving veterans and families experiencing homelessness.
The Salvation Army relies heavily on donations. More than 70 percent of The Salvation Army’s $6 million budget is funded by individual donors and in-kind gifts.
“People may not realize the importance of every dollar put in a red kettle,” says Captain Doug Hanson, county coordinator. “If every person in El Paso County gave just $2 to a red kettle this year, we could raise nearly one and a half million dollars to help others in our community.”
Rebecca, a single mother of two young girls, had hit rock bottom when she found help from The Salvation Army.
“I was trying to raise my girls on poverty wages and The Salvation Army helped me when I was in desperate need,” Rebecca says. “They provided emergency food when I needed it. They helped me with back-to-school clothing and school supplies. They even provided Christmas gifts for my daughters during a few of my toughest years.”
Despite the material help, Rebecca says the most important thing The Salvation Army provided was a foundation of love and support for her family.
“The Salvation Army’s after-school program and summer day camp gave my girls opportunities to experience things like field trips and summer camp in Estes Park and made it possible for me to work and go to school,” Rebecca says. “l was able to get my CNA license and even recently started my own cleaning business thanks to The Salvation Army encouraging me to get my life back on track.”
The Red Kettle Campaign also provides an opportunity for employment for people who might not otherwise have income during the holiday season. But volunteers are the most crucial part of the campaign’s success.
“We hire bell ringers each year because we don’t have enough volunteers to ring the bells every day and at every location,” says Community Relations Director Jeane Turner. “But the more volunteers we have the better!”
Turner says volunteer bell ringers bring in two to three times more money each hour than paid kettle workers do. “It’s a great team building activity for businesses, a way for families to volunteer – and it’s fun,” added Turner. “My boys have rung the bells every year for 10 years.”
Glenn Poswalk has been volunteering to ring a bell for nearly a decade, always with his dog(s) at his side.
“Beuferd and I started out in 2014,” says Poswalk, a 74-year-old retired postal worker. “We just had a ball. I volunteered as much as I could.”
In an average year, he volunteers for 30 to 40 two-hour sessions during the holiday season – usually at the Hobby Lobby at Woodmen and Academy or the King Soopers at Austin Bluffs and Academy.
“Now, I’m plugged in, and they sign me up for every day,” he says, adding that while Beuferd recently passed away, his two younger dogs will join him this year: George and Gracie – a pair of big, lovable golden retriever/Australian shepherd mix pups.
The dogs love it; Poswalk loves it.
“I don’t do anything for pay,” he says. “It’s all volunteer. It’s an act of love. … I don’t want anything other than to share in the joy of the season. … It’s an easy way to say ‘Merry Christmas’ and to warm hearts.”
Volunteers can sign up to ring the bell at RegistertoRing.com. The Salvation Army also encourages individuals and businesses to start an Online Red Kettle.