OSWEGO - It was 1891, San Francisco, and 1,000 of that city’s poor were facing a Christmas of hunger. A captain of a relatively new Christian charity in America worried for the welfare of those people. As he thought back to that charity’s roots in England and his time in the navy there, he remembered a large, iron kettle down at the docks of Liverpool’s Stage Landing, a kettle they called “Simpson’s Pot,” and how passers-by tossed coins into it to help their city’s less fortunate. And so, Captain Joseph McFee of the charity that had been in this country perhaps only 10 years, put a kettle down by the Oakland Ferry Landing at the foot of Market Street, and in that moment a drive was born that fed the poor of San Francisco that Christmas and has fed millions across America since.
The iconic Christmas red kettles and bell ringers of the Salvation Army have begun to appear across Oswego County this November and will continue until Dec. 24 in the hope of raising $70,000 this holiday season for those in need here, according to Oswego County Salvation Army Lieutenant Alberta Rakestraw.
A kettle may have been the most practical and high-tech method of fundraising 128 years ago, and though it is still a crucial branding symbol of charity and kindness and certainly will remain a part of American Christmas tradition and the American psyche, the Salvation Army has realized the world has changed. Kettles were fine and the nostalgia cozy in scenes out of “It’s A Wonderful Life,” but America is now very much a cashless society. And so, the problem arose: What are the charitable to put into that kettle when they don’t have a dime in cash on them? Enter Apple Pay, Google Pay, and the clever QR Code. That’s where the money is in America today. This season, with a simple scan of that QR Code made by simply pointing a smartphone’s camera at it, donations can be made using any credit card. Donors will be able to choose the amount of their donation, and though it won’t clink in the kettle, it’ll make someone a merrier Christmas all the same.
There will be 16 red kettle sites throughout the county this season. In Oswego you find them at: Walmart, JC Penney, Big Lots, Paul’s Big M, Price Chopper, and Kinney Drugs. In Fulton sites will be found at: Walmart, Price Chopper and Kinney Drugs. In Pulaski look for the red kettles at: Tops, Deaton’s Ace Building & Home Center, and Kinney Drugs. Red kettle donation sites will also be found at Tops in Mexico, Hannibal, and Sandy Creek, and at Walmart in Central Square.
The red kettles are manned from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day throughout the drive, often by volunteers from community groups. According to Lt. Rakestraw, the average donation is usually a couple dollars, though she has seen a check for $1,000 thrown into one of those kettles.
Donations “seem to match what’s going on with the economy,” she said.
The money raised mainly helps fund the Salvation Army’s social service efforts throughout the year. Rakestraw explained those include their food pantry, soup kitchen, furniture and clothing assistance, occasional rental assistance, and administrative necessities such as keeping the lights on.
Rakestraw has been an officer of the Salvation Army for three years but said she has been part of the Salvation Army “since I was a small child.” She is now 32 and lives in Fulton.
“We’re very thankful for all the continued support from all the stores that let us stand and all the donors and the volunteers that call in to schedule time to be able to serve. And so, it’s a big effort and we wouldn’t be able to do it on our own,” she said.
Volunteers are always welcome. To volunteer, call the Salvation Army at 315-343-6491. They are located in Oswego at 73 W. 2nd St.