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The Notorious Red Kettle

It’s the unmistakable sound of bells ringing outside the grocery store or the mall. The bell ringer for the non-profit organization The Salvation Army constantly and maybe even rhythmically rings the bell hoping to get your attention. This iconic holiday image is one familiar all around the world. And as you drop a handful of change into that bright red bucket on the 125th anniversary of the Red Kettle campaign, it’s important that you know what cause you are supporting.

In 1891, Salvation Army Captain Joseph McFee facilitated the very beginnings of the red kettle. The Salvation Army’s website claims that the donations received during this holiday season “enable the organization to continue its year-round efforts at helping those who would otherwise be forgotten”. There certainly is proof of the effectiveness of the Red Kettle campaign. It raised $144.7 million in 2014 to provide shelter and social services to 30 million Americans. But as an “evangelical part of the universal Christian Church,” according to the organization’s mission statement, are the Red Kettle donations really being used to help all people in need?

There are some obvious critics of The Salvation Army as a whole – from the Twitter handle @NoRedKettles to multiple articles in The Huffington Post. The most recent controversy dealt with the very prevalent LGBT community. An article in The Huffington Post, originally posted on, details every way in which the organization has been anti-gay since 1986. Other critics, not quite so complex in historical references, cite specific instances in which The Salvation Army has denied members of the LGBT community from receiving service and equal treatment. Currently, there is no trace of anti-gay statements on The Salvation Army’s website but rather a message of equality: “People who come to us for assistance will be served according to their need and our capacity to help – regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation”. It seems like a genuine statement of equality and a nondiscrimination policy, but @NoRedKettles isn’t buying it.

While there is, and will be, a certain aura of judgment and critique surrounding The Salvation Army, it is undeniable that the organization has provided assistance and relief to many people in need. The Red Kettle campaign has been a success in its 125 years of existence, using 82 cents of every dollar donated to provide service in 5,000 communities nationwide.

For 19 years, The Salvation Army has partnered with the Dallas Cowboys; raising a total of over $2 billion for the Red Kettle campaign. This year to kick off the 125th campaign, Luke Bryan performed live during the halftime of the Thanksgiving Day game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Carolina Panthers.

This event began the 25,000 red kettles now stationed in storefronts and on street corners. The Salvation Army’s claim in their slogan “Doing the Most Good” may be controversial, but it is indisputable that they bring hope to the less fortunate throughout the holiday season through distribution of Christmas gifts, dinners, clothing, and toys.

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