(Photo: AP Images / Chitose Suzuki)
The season of holiday cheer and armed robberies is upon us. Law enforcement officials nationwide are telling people to be careful as they do their holiday shopping because of the surge in theft and armed robbery this time of year.
Salvation Army bell ringers are also targets for thieves during the holiday season. The well-known red kettle that sits outside of shops during the holidays is kept locked and hangs from a 5-foot metal stand. The stand is meant to keep thieves from running off with it, but it doesn’t deter everyone.
This week a Salvation Army bell-ringer was robbed at a Kmart in North Canton, Ohio. Police report that four youths with a knife took a kettle of money from the bell-ringing volunteer. They were dressed in dark clothing and hooded sweatshirts.
"He (the volunteer) wasn't able to give us a very big description except that there were three black males, one white male. They threatened to use a knife. He did see a knife clip," Sgt. Frank Kemp told Cleveland’s WJW-TV. He also said it was impossible to know how much money was taken since the kettle had been outside the store for 8 hours. The robbers left the scene on foot.
Last year in Pottsville, Pa., Capt. Adam Hench of the Salvation Army Pottsville Corps was robbed by two men as he was returning to the Salvation Army's local headquarters. The men robbed Hench of an undisclosed amount of money, according to Pottsville police.
A similar robbery took place in Charlotte, N.C., last year when two men forced Salvation Army employees to the ground at a location where workers gathered to count the donated money from the red kettles. The robbers stole more than $4,000 in donated cash.
There are an estimated 25,000 bell ringers that participate in the Salvations Army’s kettle donation drives each year. Although the organization doesn’t track how many robberies take place because of how decentralized they are, they do make sure volunteers know not to engage in any altercations if they are robbed.
While there are some security measures, like locking the kettles and transporting them to secure locations at night, there is no national safety policy for volunteers.
Shelley Henderson, director of Communications for the greater Charlotte area Salvation Army in North Carolina, told The Christian Post that for volunteers in her area they have three procedures in place. “We reassure our bell ringers that if someone makes you feel uncomfortable, go inside. Your life and well-being are more important than money,” she said.
They also make sure that the bell ringers and their kettles are placed in well-lit locations, like grocery stores or Wal-Marts that have their own security officers. And finally, the kettles are picked up each night and put in a secure location to be redistributed in the morning.
The Salvation Army’s kettle campaign began in 1891 when Joseph McFee, a Salvation Army captain in San Francisco, Calif., decided he wanted to provide free Christmas dinners to 1,000 of the poorest people in the city.
During his time as a sailor in England, he saw a large iron kettle at one of the shipyard docks where people walking by would toss a coin in for the needy. This provided McFee with the idea to place a pot at the Oakland Ferry Landing, with a sign that read, “Keep the Pot Boiling."
Word spread quickly, and by Christmas the kettle had raised enough money to feed the poor. The success of the San Francisco campaign spread to other American cities, and evolved into the program we have today. Each year, the Salvation Army serves more than 4.5 million people during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
This year’s campaign kicked off on Nov. 19. Last year, the organization raised $142 million, breaking its red kettle record for the sixth straight year. Eighty-five cents of every dollar goes directly to Salvation Army programs, with the rest covering administrative costs.