Doing the Most Good

From its simple beginnings on a wharf in San Francisco to a nationally televised gridiron halftime show, and into the cyber world, The Salvation Army Red Kettle has become a cherished part of the American Christmas tradition. Through the donations collected each year, the kettles allow Americans to help each other regardless of the size of their donation. Nationwide, around $150 million is collected at 25,000 kettle stands each year.

In times of national economic crisis, red kettle contributions tend to decrease as request for assistance rise. During the Great Recession of 2008-2009 the Red Kettle Campaign saw a decline in kettle donations while requests for need increased by 130%. During the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 it is estimated that donations may be down by up to 50% but need has increased by 155%. At the start of the pandemic some Central Territory corps saw their requests for food assistance increase by over 500%.

The generous gifts received at Central Territory kettles allow the Territory’s more than 400 corps and institutions to provide some form of aid to over 3.2 million people annually around the Central Territory.  Red Kettle Campaign donations provide Christmas joy to those in need through meals and food boxes; coats, clothing, and toys for children; and other programs to make the Christmas season brighter. During the rest of the year, Red Kettle funds continue providing food and meals; fund rent and utility assistance programs; send children to summer camp; social services assistance; help the homeless; and more. Every dollar contributed makes a measurable impact in the lives of people in communities across the Midwest.

Thank you for helping us to Do the Most Good

Click images to enlarge

Two Salvation Army officers and one man wearing a suit stand in front of a Christmas tree that is located in front of a Des Moines, IA public building. A sign next to the tree informs readers that this is the Tree of Lights.
In 1947 Major Olin Brigman started the Tree of Lights program in St. Louis. Each light on the tree was lit when $100 was donated. Today, the Tree of Lights is used in many communities to measure the progress of the Red Kettle Campaign toward its donation goal.
Black and white photo from the 1930s showing parents selecting food and Christmas presents for their children
At this 1935 distribution of toys and treats in Minneapolis, MN, parents could select Christmas gifts for their children.
Black and white photo of two boys selecting the toys they would like to receive for Christmas. One boy holds a sled and the other two flashlights.
These boys are selecting the toys that they would like to receive for Christmas, c. 1939.
Color photo of five children wearing winter coats and hats. Racks of new coats can be seen in the background.
These children received new winter coats during the 2016 Indiana Division's Coats for Kids program. This program was first held in the 1980s and today is offered throughout the Central Territory. Clothing distribution programs like this one help to provide clothing, warm winter coats, shoes, and accessories to those who could otherwise not afford such essentials.
A blonde haired, blue eyed doll wearing a frilly pink dress
This plastic doll came from the Dress-A-Doll program. It is a program hosted by the Women’s Auxiliary and other groups that brought women together who loved to sew to make outfits for dolls. The completed dolls were put on display for awards and auctions, the money raised would go to local corps. Ultimately, this type of doll, and later teddy bears, were meant to bring joy to girls and boys at Christmas. Gift of Major Nathan Johnson
Pamphlet for the 2011 Angel Tree program. Host corps could use this pamphlet to select and order Angel Tree tags and donor file cards.
Started in the Southern Territory in 1979, the Angel Tree program is now offered nationwide. Parents register their child and indicate what the child would like for Christmas on an Angel tag. Donors select a tag and purchase the requested items for their angel.
Black and white photograph showing a Christmas party for children
A Christmas party for children held in the corps gymnasium.
Prisoners in a jail are selecting toys for their children from long tables. Salvation Army officers and prison officials assist them.
The first Prison Toy Lift was held in 1954 in Green Bay, WI. This program allows inmates to select toys for their children which are then wrapped and shipped by Salvationists to the children from their parent. The Toy Lift helps to preserve strong bonds between parent and child.
Three men seated at a table eating dinner
The Salvation Army held its first Christmas dinner for those in need in the early 1890s. The tradition has continued for over 130 years. Today, the Army continues to provide Christmas dinner along with meals year-round.
Black and white photo showing rows of bushell baskets filled with food and people packing the baskets. A Christmas tree is in the background
Corps members assemble Christmas food baskets for distribution to those in need in the community. Today boxes are filled with enough nutritious food to make almost a week's worth of meals. These boxes are distributed at Christmas and all year long.
Black and white photo of three World War II soldiers and two women. The group opens care packages given to the men. The group stands in front of a decorated Christmas Tree
The Salvation Army provided a home away from home for servicemen and women through its Red Shield and USO clubs. Christmas time featured gift boxes to soldiers. Today many corps have programs that support our troops at Christmas and all year long.
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