Celebrating Christmas with the Salvation Army
We have all encountered them at this time of year, the Red Kettle bell ringers, standing outside Safeway or The Market for hours in the cold, collecting money for the Salvation Army. Their bells have become a familiar note in the holiday soundscape, one of the sounds of the Christmas season. It’s important work as their collections comprise the Salvation Army’s largest fund-raising effort for the whole year. The money goes directly into the two main Christmas programs as well as funding other programs throughout the year.
Generally, the Red Kettle bell ringers are unpaid volunteers but occasionally there’s a need to pay someone to ring the bell. “I prefer volunteers for obvious reasons,” Lieutenant Shane Ingram told me. “However, paying bell ringers is often a ministry in itself, because the folks that approach us are really in need of a job. It’s an opportunity for us to give them a little extra cash during the Christmas season and some spiritual guidance as well.”
As cash becomes less common, the Salvation Army will be providing their bell ringers with a number of alternative options this year such as a QR code, Venmo, tap to pay and good, old-fashioned checks.
The Salvation Army’s two principal initiatives at Christmas are the Food Box Program and the Toy Assistance Program. The food boxes ensure that seniors and families have their own Christmas dinner. They contain, whenever possible, a turkey and all the fixings like canned corn, canned beans, cranberry sauce, gravy mix, potatoes and dessert. Families can pick up their box at the Salvation Army’s facility or sign up for home delivery. “Home delivery is a really big part of what we have done over the past few years,” Shane explained. “There are some folks who can’t make it out or are uncomfortable leaving, especially with COVID.”
The Toy Assistance Program is all about making sure kids experience the happiness of the holiday season. Families wishing to participate in the Program apply to the Salvation Army in October. They do need to qualify financially along the same guidelines as the food bank uses. Once applications are complete, a list of kids’ first names, along with their needs and wishes is distributed to donors throughout the community, who gather up toys ranging from dolls and RC cars all the way up to bicycles. About a week before Christmas, the toys are distributed to parents. “It’s really an important time for us to support parents in providing a joyful Christmas for their kids,” Shane remarked. “We like to approach it in a fashion where the kids don’t know that their Christmas is coming from us. It’s really about uplifting the parents in being able to provide that for their children.”
Lieutenant Shane was very clear in expressing how supporting the community in these ways is a two-way street. “The beauty of our process,” he told me, “is that we could not do it without the support of the community. Volunteers are essential in everything we do. There are only three staff members: myself, our administrative assistant and our Food Bank Director. We could never accomplish as much as we do without our faithful volunteers.” In his first year here in Anacortes, (he arrived in July) Lieutenant Shane says his main push is creating partnerships in the community, “friend-raising” more than fundraising. In fact, Lieutenant Shane himself started as a volunteer with the Salvation Army. “I started out volunteering at a food bank in Southern California,” he told me. “I fell in love with the change I saw in people’s lives and with the purpose it provided in my own life.”
It’s good to know that whatever change we drop into that Red Kettle is not only providing a happier Christmas to kids, seniors and families in our community but also funding year-round programs that can change peoples’ lives for the better.