Salvation Army’s red kettle becomes virtual

Nikki Mitchell

As the holiday season approaches, a familiar sound greets Marquette customers as they enter grocery stores and make their way through the Westwood Mall: bell ringers, raising money through The Salvation Army red kettles to help families in need of basic amenities and Christmas presents.

Due to the continuing growth in technology and online donation sites, The Salvation Army has made virtual red kettles another way to donate.

Instead of donating in person, anyone can go to and donate to a specific online red kettle.

The process of donating virtually is a simple process, said Capt. Joel Arthur of the Marquette Salvation Army. After finding a red kettle and the desired location of where the money will go, donations by credit cards or PayPal are accepted.

“We wanted to stay with the times and make all avenues for donations available,” Arthur said. “With technology and people having apps on their phones, it seemed like a good idea.”

While the virtual red kettle started in 2008, a growth in donation apps and internet use has made it a growing success.

However, in smaller cities like Marquette, the majority of red kettle donations are given to actual bell ringers stationed at the entrances of local stores, Arthur said.

The donations from both forms of red kettles are returned to the community through the Social Services Department that helps families in need.

The Social Services Department helps pay for heating bills, food, clothing and other basic needs.

Some of the proceeds are also applied to The Salvation Army church programs and services, Arthur said.

“We ask people to come out and volunteer a few hours working our red kettles,” Arthur said. “You don’t have to just ring the bell; you can sing or play the guitar. It’s a great way to do community service.”

The red kettle idea was created in 1819 by a Salvation Army captain who decided to provide Christmas dinner for the poor in San Francisco, Calif., according to its website.

While he wanted to provide the meal, he didn’t know where he would get the funding to do so, until he remembered that during his days as a sailor, a large iron kettle was a place people could throw coins to help the poor.

He then placed a kettle at a ferry landing and placed a sign that read, “Keep the Pot Boiling” near the pot. Soon, he had the money he needed to fund a Christmas dinner for the poor.

In 1897, the idea had spread and led to a nationwide donation that funded 150,000 Christmas dinners.

According to the Salvation Army website, the U.S. helps more than 4.5 million people during the holiday seasons.

Lisa Leach, 23, from Wisconsin, has volunteered as a red kettle bell ringer for two years.

During the holiday season, she spends every day from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. ringing her bell and collecting donations at locations such as Valle’s Village Market, Shopko, the Westwood Mall and Big Lots.

“I like to help families that can’t afford Christmas and to help those that can’t even afford food,” Leach said. “I help them by ringing the bell and it goes to a good cause.”

Despite the cold and snowy weather, she finds bell-ringing to be a fun experience.

Often times when her stepson visits her during her shift, he enjoys ringing the bell as well, Leach said.

“It’s really a good experience for everyone, of every age, to get out and help the community,” she said.

NMU student Elaine Brushafer, a senior theater major, said that while the virtual red kettle is a good way to get people to donate and would eliminate the dangers of bell ringers getting sick and stolen from, she’s more likely to donate to the red kettles in person.

“I’d probably donate more in person because I have my pocket change with me and can afford to give that versus larger donations online,” Brushafer said.

If given the option to volunteer as a bell ringer, she said that she would probably participate because volunteering for a good cause is important.

“They’re out there trying to do good for everyone,” Brushafer said.