NJ Salvation Army Desperately Seeking Red Kettle Volunteers This Holiday Season

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As everyone prepares for the upcoming holidays, take heart, after being sidelined for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Red Kettles and Bells of the NJ Division of the Salvation Army will be out in force.

Therefore, they desperately need volunteers to help handle the kettles and ring the bells.

The Red Kettle Campaign is the oldest annual charity fundraiser of its kind in the United States, says Trenton Citadel Officer Lt. Alan Porchetti.

When did the Red Kettle campaign start?

The Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign was started in 1891 by Army Captain Joseph McFee in San Francisco. He opened a soup kitchen with a promise to help feed thousands of underprivileged people near Fisherman’s Wharf.

McFee placed a giant cast-iron cooking pot in front of the soup kitchen door for people to throw in their change as they passed. The money would be used to continue feeding people.

Since people started donating to the Salvation Army through a cast iron pot, that’s why a red kettle is used to be placed outside supermarkets and chain stores at big surface.

What is the Red Kettle campaign?

The Red Kettle is the Salvation Army’s biggest fundraiser of the year, Porchetti said. Every time you see a bell ringer outside a store, they’ll ask you about the rest of your grocery store visit. These donations go directly to local communities, he said.

Porchetti said it gives him great joy to see families, especially children, taking time out of their busy holiday schedules to throw change or a few dollars into the kettles.

Where and when will NJ see the red kettles?

From Black Friday, November 25, the Red Kettles will be out. However, the official kick off for the red kettle season is Tuesday, Nov. 29, better known as “Giving Tuesday,” Porchetti said.

Red kettles and bell ringers will be outside grocery stores and large retail chains such as ShopRite, Walmart, JC Penney, Hobby Lobby and more.

In Trenton alone, there will be at least 16 locations where red kettles and bell ringers can be found, he added.

What’s new this year?

The countertop kettle is new this year. As well as bell ringers outside stores with the red kettle, Porchetti said there will be countertop kettles. It’s a small bucket next to registers at various stores across the state. “Feel free to throw your change in there as well,” he said.

What if you don’t have cash?

Carefree. Many people no longer carry cash on them as they did in the past. The Salvation Army is aware of this and has grown over time.

At many red kettle locations, Porchetti said people can see barcodes so they can donate by scanning the QR codes on their phones. The Salvation Army has had this feature for a few years now, but said he sees it becoming a more popular way to donate money.

“Either scan the code or use your Venmo, Apple Pay or Google Pay. We also get a lot of donations this way,” Porchetti said.

Where does the collected money go?

All money raised through the Red Kettle campaign goes directly to local communities, Porchetti said. For example, in Trenton, the money goes to several food pantries, or to help with utilities and rental assistance.

“We have a food truck that travels to the community every Friday and we serve an average of 300 meals in Mercer County. Whatever dollar or penny you put in the bucket will go straight back to the community. It will not be sitting in a bank account. It will not remain for exploitation purposes. It will go directly back to the community,” Porchetti said.

The donated money was also used to help fund a music program the Salvation Army and the City of Trenton launched for children two years ago during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. When schools were closed, the program managed to stay open and allow children to enjoy a wonderful opportunity, he said.

“As for this last term, I believe 76 students came to enjoy our music school,” Porchetti said.

They teach everything from guitar and bass to piano, drums and dance. The Salvation Army is the largest music provider after public schools, he added.

The Salvation Army is known for its marching band, Porchetti proudly said. They enjoy teaching children to play brass and learning music theory. However, the organization has recognized that not everyone wants to be a brass player. That’s why they offer guitar, piano and several other instruments.

“We like to invest in our children and our families,” he said.

How do I volunteer to become a Red Kettle Bell Ringer?

The Salvation Army is in trouble. They desperately need volunteers, Porchetti said. They are still trying to recover from the pandemic. This year, for some reason, the number of volunteers is down, he said.

It is primarily a volunteer-based organization, so one can imagine how many volunteers are needed. Cash donations are great, as are toy donations, he said. But volunteer hours are also essential.

Anyone interested in volunteering this season as a Red Kettle Bell Ringer can sign up at www.salvationarmyusa.org.

Jen Ursillo is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at [email protected]

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