“I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time … as a good time; ... men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely.”
—Scrooge’s nephew Fred, to his Uncle Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”
From Thanksgiving to Christmas, people’s hearts and wallets open up.
But poverty exists year-round.
That’s the challenge for charities such as the Salvation Army: How do you keep the spirit of giving, both of time and money, going throughout the rest of the year? As it is now, a significant part of the Salvation Army’s fundraising goes on in the 30 or so days between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
We asked Salvation Army staff and volunteers about the phenomenon and for ideas on how to spread that spirit of giving throughout the rest of the year.
The Salvation Army’s Major Tom McDowell said that the tradition of holiday giving has been around for “a century or two” and was greatly influenced by the cultural phenomena of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”
“It’s clearly connected to the Christmas story—our western culture is greatly influenced by that,” McDowell said. “I think Charles Dickens was linking the desperate effort of survival with the Christmas story.”
There’s a historical link between the Dickens story and people seeing the holidays as a time to help your fellow man, McDowell said.
Dickens story impacted more that people of faith.
“It was culture-wide, even though it originated in the Christmas story,” McDowell said.
McDowell believes that people respond to the kettles because they are reminded of their own blessings.
The kettle tradition started in 1891 when San Francisco Salvation Army Capt. Joseph McFee wanted to host a Christmas dinner for the poor. He drew from his days as a sailor in England. When a person was in need, a large pot was place on the docks for donations. McFee put up a large pot on a ferry landing, and the tradition was born.
Volunteer time and money
Jon Gordon, the chef who has run the Salvation Army’s Thanksgiving dinner for many years, is used to the phenomenon. Every Thanksgiving, the kitchen is full of people who want to serve, and he is grateful for every one of them.
But Gordon, who runs other charitable events throughout the year, always wants to remind those folks that help is needed year-round, not just at the Salvation Army, but elsewhere as well.
The Salvation Army has a full lunchroom Monday through Friday, said Patrice Gabower, volunteer and special events coordinator. In the summer, the Salvation Army sees more families with children because kids are no longer getting breakfast and lunch at school, she said.
“People are their most generous from Thanksgiving to Christmas,” said Patrice Gabower, volunteer and special events coordinator. “But people are still hungry on March 1 and on July 1.”
Gabower acknowledged it’s difficult for working people to volunteer during the week. Some companies, such as Kerry Ingredients in Beloit, allow their employees to work a certain number of volunteer hours while still on the clock, she said.
One of the easiest ways to give is to designate a small amount of money to be withdrawn from your bank account every month. Most charities offer such an option.
A $10 donation once a month adds up to a $120 annual donation.
McDowell is encouraging people to make another choice: Ring bells for two hours and raise $120 or more.
The bell ringers get the satisfaction of giving while the spirit moves them. Even more important, a couple hours of bell ringing draws more people into the spirit of the season, McDowell said.
That’s what David Gabbey has found.
“I love to see people ring with their families, showing their kids how to help the poor,” Gabby said.
Gabbey, who refers to himself as “the dancing pumpkin,” has pledged to ring bells for 180 hours outside of Wal-Mart. More than that, he hopes to raise enough money to earn himself a place on the plaque at Salvation Army headquarters.
“I want to double the amount,” Gabbey said.
Gabbey feels called by God to serve in this way.
At Woodman’s bakery entrance, Samantha Lampe plays Christmas carols on her cello instead of ringing a bell.
She and her sister have been working at the kettles for about 10 years, starting in their high school years.
It’s just something they enjoy doing—and they encourage others to take it up.
McDowell thinks that it’s the beauty surrounding Christ’s birth that sparks that sense of giving and concern for others.
“The closer you get to the story, the more understanding you will have of not only the child, but what Jesus as a man required of his disciples,” McDowell said. “That brings you closer to the heart of God and what he intended us to be. Am I my brother’s keeper? Certainly you are.”