A Shout Out for the Bell Ringers at the Red Kettles

I struck up a conversation with a Salvation Army Bell Ringer near the entrance of a local grocery store near Annapolis, Maryland.   He was a part of a Kiwanis volunteer group, all of them local leaders taking 2-hour shifts to keep the bells ringing.

It’s one of the best things about Christmas.    When shopping this time of year my wife I carry a little extra cash so we are prepared for the red kettles and the friendly greetings from Bell Ringers standing outside regardless of the weather.

The Bells and Kettles are a not so silent Christmas reminder of the hidden poverty that surrounds us year round.

That must be why they are unwelcome at most shopping malls.   The entire economy is riding on frenzied around the clock spending.    Some merchants would rather we not be reminded that some of our neighbors don’t have enough money for food, shelter and medical care, let alone gifts.

In “The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives,” Sasha  Abramsky documents our widening inequality gap.

The first half of the book includes stories from The Voices of  Poverty website.

The second half is handbook for change, ways to eradicate  poverty, if, as he writes, we really cared.

The “scandal” of poverty, in Abramsky’s words, is that in the richest country in the world “we’ve come to accept very high levels of poverty as either inevitable or the way things should be – an untroubled acceptance of mass poverty.”

A recent New York Times report “In the war on poverty, a dogged adversary,” reminds us that fifty years after President Johnson’s War on Poverty, 16% or 50 million Americans are still poverty-stricken.

To a significant extent poverty is the result of an increasing number of low-paying jobs that don’t provide enough pay to lift workers above the poverty line without government help.

The Red Kettles are more than a fund-raising strategy for the Salvation Army.

In a fairly unobtrusive way the Bells and Kettles challenge our “untroubled acceptance of mass poverty.”

And the Kiwanis volunteers remind us of the responsibility leaders from every walk of life bear to end poverty, which after all was the vision of Mary’s song in Luke’s Christmas story –

“he has exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things.”

6 Responses to “A Shout Out for the Bell Ringers at the Red Kettles”

  1. Bob Sloan Says:


    Another excellent blog. In researching organizations to support with funds from the Jane Bancroft Robinson Foundation I read a quote from Carolyn Graham, Executive Director of The Elizabeth Ministry in Southeast DC. The quote: “Without a high school diploma in today’s global market place it is tantamount to a sentence of a life of poverty.” When you look at the high school drop out rate among minorities in our country it is a scandal. If this quote is true then we are perpetuating poverty at an alarming rate. We are going to use whatever resources we have to support education/literacy and programs that help break the cycle of poverty. It is something that we often choose not to see because the reality is so disturbing. Thanks for bringing our attention to issues that matter.


  2. Jim Diehl Says:

    Thanks for the reminder Tom! Just 30 minutes ago I made out a check for the Salvation Army and will put it into the kettle today. We all can do something!


    Jim Diehl

  3. Keith Wright Says:

    Almost 25 years ago my friend, Elvin Powers, told me when he was a child they were able to have Christmas because of the Salvation Army. He said “I never pass up the kettle.” Since he shared this with me I have followed his example. I am building a relationship with one of the ringers and today I invited her to our church in McMinnville to hear Jerry Moen preach. She said she would attend.

  4. Herb Newell Says:

    I don’t like to pass a red kettle by. I started off my Christmas Season this year ringing the bell at a mall. My pastor and his whole family came by to ring, along with other families from our church. We have such an affinity with the Salvation Army that we put a Salvation Army box at the shelter. (Pray that the town fathers, who are just now rattling their sabers will think better of it). Whenever a family in shelter needs clothing we print off a certificate for $25 or $50 at the SA Thrift Store, no questions asked. This is not tit for tat — it is mutual aid and respect for our two compassionate ministries. The red kettle has become one of the few reminders in what has become a season of getting that is should be a season of giving.

  5. J. K. Warrick Says:

    Wonderful reminder of the needs around us, Tom. It spoke to my heart and renewed my commitment to compassion in Jesus’ name. Blessings, my brother.

  6. geoff kunselman Says:

    Dr. Nees, thank you for the thoughts and the book recommendation. I just downloaded it. Bell ringers hold a special place in my heart and memory.