Salvation Army takes red kettles to cyberspace

Sure, you can drop your spare change into a Salvation Army red kettle just like you, and millions of other Americans, have done for more than a century now.

But if you’re of a more techie stripe, drop a digital coin or two into a Salvation Army virtual red kettle (www.onlineredkettle.org). Either way, don’t forget to share the motivation for your Yuletide selflessness by posting a selfie and a few words on a Salvation Army Twitter site (#redkettlereason) unveiled for this Christmas season.

It’s a far cry from ringing a bell — though that’s still going on — and it’s all part of The Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign, gussied up for a digital future while retaining the charm of its beginnings.

The Salvation Army of Southern Nevada’s Red Kettle Campaign started Nov. 29 and runs through Christmas Eve. Spokeswoman Leslee Rogers says this year’s bell-ringing effort will include about 150 red kettles positioned at valley stores, shopping malls and other locations.

The nonprofit’s now-iconic Red Kettle Campaign dates back to 1891, when Salvation Army Capt. Joseph McFee “was trying to figure out how he could provide free Christmas dinners to thousands of people in San Francisco who were hungry,” Rogers says.

Thinking back to his days as a sailor in Liverpool, England, McFee remembered how sailors disembarking at Stage Landing would encounter a large kettle marked “Simpson’s Pot” into which they could drop a few coins to aid the poor. The next day, McFee set up a large kettle at the Oakland Ferry Landing at the foot of Market Street “with a sign that said, “Keep the Pot Boiling,’ ” Rogers says. “And that, of course, has evolved into the red kettles we use today.”

Today, the Red Kettle Campaign helps about 5 million people during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, and anything left over after the holiday season supports programs The Salvation Army does all year, Rogers says.

Rogers says Southern Nevada’s Salvation Army chapter has set a goal of $800,000 for this year’s campaign. Does getting a frazzled holiday shopper to part with a few bucks require a bit of, well, salesmanship? “Absolutely,” says Rogers, who, herself, takes a few shifts at the kettle each year.

Are there strategies? Greeting each potential donor, certainly. Smiling. Personalizing each encounter as much as possible.

“One thing I do if I’m working at a department store is to just make sure to hold the door,” Rogers says. “If they’re coming into the store, ‘Oh, let me get that for you.’ If they’re coming out, ‘Oh, let me get that door.’ ”

Such niceties can help to create not just one-time donors but regulars who seek out Salvation Army kettles each year.

Just recently, Rogers says, “We had a gal and her mom show up, and they had a huge bag filled with coins. They said, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m so excited to see you. We’ve been driving all over town looking for a kettle,’ and dumped a whole bucket of money into the kettle.”

Jim Reid, kettle coordinator for The Salvation Army’s Henderson Corps, even has a credo of sorts for his bell-ringers: “Pray like everything depends on God, because it does,” he tells them, and “work like everything depends on us, because it does.”

Although some bell-ringers are paid, most are volunteers. Rogers says The Salvation Army of Southern Nevada still needs volunteer bell-ringers to take the organization through this holiday season. (Visit www.salvationarmysouthernnevada.org and click on the “volunteer” button, or call volunteer coordinator Tonia Brown at 702-870-4430, extension 105.)

Volunteers include families, individuals and members of local service groups, Rogers says.

“We get Kiwanis clubs and Key clubs and Rotary groups,” Rogers says.

Volunteer bell-ringers help to maximize the value of donations. For example, Rogers says, “if you ring the bell for two hours, that saves us enough money to provide food through our food pantry program for a family of four for a week.”

Or, she says, a volunteer manning a kettle for a full eight-hour shift “saves us enough money to provide all of the initial services needed for a victim of human trafficking who would come to us with nothing but the clothes on their back.”

A few years ago, The Salvation Army unveiled online virtual kettles “where someone can go online and create their own red kettles, then invite their friends and family and business cohorts to donate to The Salvation Army,” Rogers says.

Online red kettles can be operated by individuals, teams or companies (visit www.onlineredkettle.org).

Then, Rogers says, “our new little piece this year is a social media add-on, which is #redkettlereason, so that people who put money in the kettle can do a selfie or a snapshot and then give … the reason why they gave to The Salvation Army.”

And? “A lot of people will have different reasons,” Rogers says. “But this time of year, most people just think it’s really nice, and a lot of people think about others.”

Contact reporter John Przybys at jprzybys@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0280.

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