Dec 102008
Authors: Cecelia Wildeman

They hang outside of nearly every grocery store in Fort Collins, with the ringing of bells and a dedicated employee close by. As common as the Christmas tree or the Chanukah menorah, Salvation Army Red Kettles have become a symbol of the holiday season.

The Red Kettle tradition was started in 1891 when Salvation Army Captain Joseph McFee was concerned about the number of people starving in the San Francisco area. As he pondered ways to help these people, he remembered a situation he had encountered in Liverpool, England. Where boats came in at Stage Landing, there was a kettle on the dock called “Simpson’s Pot,” where passers-by would toss a coin to help the poor.

Six years later, the tradition spread from east to west, making its way to Boston and, in 1901, raising enough funds for a large sit-down holiday dinner for the poor in New York City. The tradition then continued to spread, creeping into Korea, Japan, Chile and many European countries.

“Red Kettle is our major fundraiser throughout the year,” said Michael Halverson, a Salvation Army Captain in Fort Collins.

With 25 kettles out each day from Thanksgiving time to Christmas Eve, the Red Kettle program in Fort Collins brings in about $150,000, all of which goes toward Salvation Army social services throughout the year.

Although the money from the Red Kettle program goes toward the social services, Salvation Army provides another social service in employing bell ringers through the holiday season.

“A lot of people don’t know this, but we pay people to do it because we can never get enough volunteers,” Halverson said. “A lot of people that work for us have a hard time getting a job otherwise, so hopefully, this can help them get through the Christmas season a little bit and help them get a job afterward.”

A job with the Salvation Army can also make the bell ringers feel good about themselves as they are assisting the needy through the holidays.

Jeremy Legg, a Front Range Community College first-year criminal justice major, decided to work for the Red Kettle program this holiday season because they provided him with money to pay his heating bill last winter, he said.

“The big thing is helping the less fortunate, helping needy families, just helping people get through this holiday time,” he said.

As an employee of the Salvation Army Red Kettle program, Legg, along with his colleagues, arrive at the Salvation Army of Fort Collins at 9 a.m., at which time breakfast is served to employees as well as to the homeless. After breakfast, the group has religious devotion and then they are bussed around the city to work from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Legg said that by being a part of the program, he knows he is providing people with top-notch social services.

“(Red Kettle is) a tradition,” he said. “Salvation Army’s social services are second-to-none; they’re the best in the world.”

He said that almost everyone that walks by the Red Kettle puts at least a little bit of money in, mentioning that one man, who was clearly well-off, dropped in $60.

While Legg is a first year employee of the Red Kettle program, some have been involved for multiple years.

Anthony Watkins, a Fort Collins resident, has been working for the program for five years, something he said he does to help people during his free time.

“I’ve been doin’ it for five years,” he said. “I don’t have nothin’ else to do, so I comes up here and do what I need to do.”

Entertainment Editor Cece Wildeman can be reached at

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