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Ever Wonder How Salvation Army’s Red Kettles Became A Holiday Icon?

They’re as much a part of the holiday season as Christmas trees, Santa Claus and red-nosed reindeer. And I venture to say everyone’s eyes reading these words right now have seen them, and probably the vast majority of you have slipped a folded dollar bill – or $5 or $10 or more – into the cross-shaped slot in the top of a shiny red Salvation Army kettle. The story behind the iconic, hanging red kettle is amazing, heartwarming and timeless, all at once.

It was December of 1891 and Captain Joseph McFee was distraught. In his heart, he’d promised himself he’d feed 1,000 poor people in the San Francisco Bay area on Christmas Day. But in his wallet, he simply didn’t have the means. Not even close.

Suddenly, he remembered years earlier, as a sailor stationed in Liverpool, England, how a large pot had been placed on the waterfront at Christmastime to raise money for the local needy. All day long, deckhands, longshoreman, and sailors would pass by the bucket and drop a coin or two in it for the less fortunate. There were no grand gestures, just a coin here and a coin there but somehow it added up to enough to make a difference in the community.

The following day, McFee received permission from city officials to place a brass urn at the Oakland Ferry Landing with a handwritten sign next to it: Keep the Pot Boiling. Before long, he’d raised more than enough money to feed the 1,000 Bay-area people who otherwise would’ve gone hungry on Christmas Day. Two years later, the campaign grew to 30 kettle locations on the West Coast with the assistance of two young Salvation Army volunteers. Soon after Christmas of 1895, the two volunteers were transferred to Boston and took the red kettle spirit with them. That year, between three kettles in Boston and the 30 West Coast locations, more than 150,000 people were served.

Fast forward to 2018 …

With the devastation caused in Florida and Southwest Georgia by catastrophic Hurricane Michael in October and the California wildfires this fall, resources of the Salvation Army have been stretched and burdened. Yet, their volunteers continue to say, “We will be here for as long as we are needed.”

As you breeze into a Walmart or Target or shopping mall in the coming weeks, pay notice to the friendly sound of the Salvation Army bell ringers, appreciate the smiles they have for everyone, and consider slipping a dollar – or $5 or $10 or more – into that cross-shaped slot on the top of the shiny red kettle. You can be comfortable knowing the Salvation Army is one of the most efficiently operated charities in the world, according to Charity Navigator which tracks such things. Eighty-two cents of each dollar will reach its targets. The rest goes toward fundraising initiatives, salaries, infrastructure and administrative costs that keep this 153-year-old organization operating in more than 130 countries worldwide.

Finally, as we move full-bore into the heart of the holiday season, the entire team at dynami group wanted to take a moment and express our appreciation of you, the experiences we’ve shared (and hopefully will continue to share for many years), and to send you holiday greetings whether you prefer …

Happy Hanukkah!

Merry Christmas!

Happy Kwanzaa!

Or, perhaps you prefer a simple, “Enjoy your holidays …” We hope the coming weeks and the New Year are full of joy, abundance and kindness for each of you and your families.


After a devastating hurricane in Florida and wildfires in California, the Salvation Army could use your help to replenish resources. Every little bit makes a difference!


Photo credit: Leonard Zhukovsky /