Why we still put out the red kettles

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The rise in The Salvation Army’s visibility at Christmas brings out supporters and questioners alike, which can sometimes prompt us to ask why we still put out the red kettles. After all, if people are more and more comfortable giving at our websites, and our physical presence can draw both positive and negative publicity, why don’t we just move the whole operation online and save ourselves the time and trouble?

There are two good reasons.

First, as our history clearly shows, the Army is no stranger to controversy. But that’s never stopped us. We should never be shy about reminding people that we are always prepared to help anyone in need to the full extent of our capacity to help. We stand ready 24 hours a day to “preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and meet human needs in His name without discrimination.” Salvation Army services are available to everyone—regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other factor. If there is any misunderstanding about this, we must correct the record, and the annual kettle campaign gives us an opportunity to do just that.

But there is a second, and far more important reason. Face-to-face ministry is not just what we do in the Army. It’s who we are. And ringing a bell is ministry. The red kettle is a tangible symbol of the Army’s commitment to care for others. In fact, every retailer who says yes to the kettle is also signaling that commitment. The kettle is a sign to all who see it that The Salvation Army—and the store that welcomes us—values people and wants to feed, shelter and comfort them when they’re struggling.

The person standing at the kettle says it too. The cheerful greeting, the warm words of thanks for every contribution (whether large or small), and the listening ear when a donor wants to share their story are all ministries. Powerful ministries. Ministries that strengthen communities, build bridges, promote understanding, and bring healing.  

And in a wonderful way, even those who see the kettle are part of the process. Kettles serve as a reminder to everyone who passes by that we need to care for each other. They reinforce the core value of giving. They provide parents the opportunity to teach their children. After all, many a life-long philanthropist made his or her first donation as a kid at a Salvation Army kettle.

Across the country, the Christmas kettle campaign raises about $140 million dollars, every dime of which is critical if we’re going to continue serving more than 23 million Americans. But in the end, it’s far more than a fundraising exercise. It’s a message of welcome and a ministry of love — a person-to-person, face-to-face encounter that cannot be replicated or replaced by any form of technology.

Sure, it’s a lot of work, and it creates all kinds of challenges. But nothing that’s worthwhile is ever easy. And without a doubt, the chance to love people in the name of Christ is definitely worth it. 

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