The Salvation Army and the Red Kettle Campaign

The companies Kevin Wessell led during his working career served America’s small businesses and entrepreneurs by completing the paperwork necessary to form the corporations or partnerships that most suited their needs, and filing it with the appropriate state government offices. Recently retired, Kevin Wessell consults on business matters on a part-time basis and spends a great deal of his time attending to several favorite charities including the United Way and the Salvation Army.

The Salvation Army was founded in 1878 by the English evangelist William Booth, whose campaigns, which targeted poor people as well as alcoholics, prostitutes, and those down on their luck, converted a quarter-million people to Christianity between 1881 and 1885. The first Salvation Army meeting in the United States was held in the spring of 1880, and the Army has grown rapidly ever since.

While the Salvation Army and its uniformed members are active year-round, it is most visible during the holiday season from Thanksgiving through Christmas, when members and volunteers set up red kettles in shopping districts and malls throughout the nation, soliciting donations to help those in need.

The Red Kettle campaign was conceived and first executed in 1891 by Salvation Army Captain Joseph McFee in San Francisco. He had resolved to give a free Christmas dinner to the poor. There was only one obstacle to overcome: He had no money to make his pledge a reality. He had been a sailor when young, and he recalled that in Liverpool a large black kettle called Simpson’s Pot was placed near where the ships landed, and passersby would toss spare change into it to help poor people.

Captain McFee placed a large pot at the foot of Market Street by the Oakland Ferry landing, with a sign reading “Keep the Pot Boiling,” and raised the money he needed. It was six years before the idea caught hold nationwide, but in 1901 New York City kettle donations fed a gathering that filled Madison Square Garden. Red kettle donations today help more than 4.5 million throughout the holiday season.

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