The Salvation Army Red Kettle is a tradition known around the world, and it’s a campaign that helps millions in need each year. Did you know it started right here in San Francisco?
The Salvation Army’s Captain Joseph McFee in San Francisco had resolved in December of 1891 to provide a free Christmas dinner to the area’s poor. But how would he pay for the food? As he went about his daily tasks, the question stayed in his mind. Suddenly, his thoughts went back to his days as a sailor in Liverpool, England. On the Stage Landing, where the boats came in, he saw a large pot into which charitable donations were thrown by passersby.
The next morning, he secured permission from the authorities to place a similar pot at the Ferry Landing, at the foot of Market Street in the city. No time was lost securing a pot and placing it in a conspicuous position so that it could be seen by all those going to and from the ferryboats. Thus, Captain McFee launched a tradition that has spread not only throughout the United States, but throughout the world.
In 1893, the program grew into 30 Red Kettle sites with the help from two young officers, William McIntyre & N.J. Lewis. In 1897, McIntyre and Lewis were transferred to the East Coast and took the kettle idea with them. This help resulted in 150,000 Christmas dinners for the poor nationwide. In 1898, the New York World hailed The Salvation Army kettles as “the newest and most novel device for collecting money.” The newspaper also observed, “There is a man in charge to see that contributions are not stolen.”
By 1900, Cadet Amelia Kunkle found herself standing by a kettle placed near one of the busiest areas in New York City. The idea of ringing the little bell to draw attention to her kettle provided to be an excellent one.
In 1901, kettle contributions in New York City provided funds for the first mammoth sit-down dinner in Madison Square Garden, a custom that continued for many years. Donations to The Salvation Army kettles at Christmas help support the nearly 25 million people nationwide served by the Army through shelters, after-school programs, addiction-recovery programs, summer camps, disaster assistance and many other social services.
In 2021, we’ve brought the Red Kettle experience into the digital world with many cashless ways to donate, from a Virtual Red Kettle, NFC tags and a TipTap machine at select kettles. Your gift means you're helping real people in need with food, shelter, toys for the kids -- and comfort in your local community.
The Salvation Army provides social services annually to more than 300,000 San Franciscans who struggle with pandemic poverty. For every dollar donated to The Salvation Army, 82 cents is used to support those services in the facilities throughout San Francisco communities.
Although the holidays are over you can donate year round! To learn more, please go to sanfrancisco.salvationarmy.org.
Photography by: Salvation Army San Francisco