Vail Today: The history behind the red kettle (video) |

Vail Today: The history behind the red kettle (video)

Tricia Swenson
Vail Today
Vail Today's Tricia Swenson with Anne Barnett, left, one of the organizers who schedules the Salvation Army bell ringers between Thanksgiving and Saturday, Dec. 24.
Andrew Taylor | Special to the Daily |

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In an area as affluent as the Vail Valley, it’s hard to believe that hunger exists. Surprisingly, nearly 500 households utilize the Vail Valley Salvation Army’s food pantry every month. In order to help the organization restock the food bank shelves this time of year, the traditional red kettle campaign returns to area grocery stores.

The red kettle idea dates back to 1891, when Salvation Army Capt. Joseph McFee was pondering how he could provide and pay for a Christmas dinner for the poverty-stricken in the San Francisco area. According to the Salvation Army USA’s website, McFee worried about how he would fund his commitment of feeding 1,000 of the city’s poorest on Christmas Day. Then he remembered his sailor days in Liverpool, England. At Stage Landing, there was a large, iron kettle called Simpson’s Pot. Passers-by would toss in what they could to help the poor.

That idea of setting a kettle out to collect money for the needy was brought by McFee to Oakland Ferry Landing at Market Street. It didn’t take long for the donations to come in, and McFee’s hope came to fruition and he fed all who needed a dinner on Christmas.

Over the next few years, the idea spread to the East Coast and cities such as Boston and New York were filling the red kettles, as well. Today, Salvation Army kettles and bell ringers can be found all over Europe and as far away as Korea, Japan and Chile.

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Locally, bell ringers have been manning the red kettle from Thanksgiving Day until Saturday, Dec. 24, at area grocery stores from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Beyond food, the Vail Valley Salvation Army also provides assistance with rent, utilities, prescriptions and emergency transport. Sometimes a medical crisis or a sudden loss of a job can be the one thing that determines needing the help of the Salvation Army or not.

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