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The Gift of Giving

Did you know that the holiday tradition of collecting donations in the Salvation Army’s red kettles was started by a man who wanted to give a free holiday meal to the poor? Here’s the story.

In 1891 Salvation Army captain, Joseph McFee wanted to give a free Christmas dinner to the San Francisco area’s poor, but he had limited resources and needed a creative solution.  McFee remembered his days as a sailor in Liverpool, England where he recalled a large pot being displayed on the stage landing.  This pot was called a “Simpson’s Pot” and passers-by would toss in donations of a coin or two to help the poor.

With the city’s permission, McFee placed a similar kettle at the Oakland ferry landing at the foot of San Francisco’s Market Place with the sign ”Keep the Pot Boiling”.  In this busy spot, the kettle drew attention from the people going to and from the ferryboats. In no time at all, McFee had the funds to provide a free meal for the needy and a holiday tradition was born.

By 1895 some 30 Salvation Army Corps on the West Coast had adopted the practice.  When two Army officers, McIntyre and Lewis were transferred to the East Coast they took the idea with them.  Initially they were met with a lack of enthusiasm. Some of their fellow officers feared they would be “making a spectacle of themselves” and refused to support the idea.

Undaunted, William McIntyre, his wife and his sister set up three kettles at Washington Street in the heart of the city.  The idea was a success.  That year in Boston and other cities nationwide 150,000 holiday dinners were served for the needy.

In 1901, contributions in New York City funded the first great sit-down dinner in Madison Square Garden, a tradition that continued for many years.

Today the needy are still invited to share holiday dinners at the thousands of Salvation Army centers throughout the country.  In addition, many poor families are given grocery vouchers so they can prepare their own dinners at home.

Those familiar red kettles remind us of the spirit of giving we associate with the holidays.  The best gift you can give your family is your safety every day of the year.

As the holidays draw near, don’t become distracted on the job thinking about holiday parties, spending time with family and friends, buying gifts and putting up decorations.  That moment of inattention could lead to an accident.  Remember to take extra precautions when driving too.  The long hours of darkness, bad weather conditions and drivers who may have had too much to drink require special attention.  At home, look for possible fire hazards and use common sense when it comes to candles, fireplaces and holiday decorations. Keep your holidays happy by staying safe on and off the job.