Keep the Pot Boiling – What the Red Kettles Signify

It all began in 1891, during the Christmas season, in San Francisco. Captain Joseph McFee wanted to feed 1,000 mouths for the holiday season but had no way to pay for the meals. Captain McFee was previously a sailor before becoming a Salvation Army officer. In his sailor days, he saw a giant bucket which people could throw money into, for charity. Captain McFee got permission to place a brass jar at the Oakland ferry landing, with a sign reading “Keep the pot boiling”.

1,000 hungry people were fed that year. Over the next 2 years, with the help of 2 other officers, William A. McIntyre, and N.J. Lewis, McFee’s idea was expanded into a program, reaching 30 locations.

Photo provided by Salvation Army

Joseph McFee was able to transform his program into a regular tradition. Officers William A. McIntyre and N.J. Lewis got moved to the east coast, where they decided to continue and expand the program. The Red Kettle phenomenon grew in the Salvation Army.

This brings us to a few common questions. What are the red kettles? Where can they be found? Where does the money go? How can I donate? How can I volunteer?

Today, The Red Kettle drive is one of the programs ran by the Salvation Army. These programs vary from Sports Ministry to run seniors boarding and meals. The Red Kettle money also goes to feeding the homeless. 

Red kettles can be found at various locations, if you would like to donate. You can usually find them at locations such as Target, Safeway,  Walgreens, BART, Whole Foods, and many others. In an interview with Major Mike Lutcher, who, along with his wife, are Corps officers at SoMA, he said that there are 3 red kettles for his location; Union Square, Target at the Metreon on 4th street, and the Whole Foods on 4th street, between Folsom and Harrison.

You can also donate online at!/donation/checkout. (Make sure it’s the Salvation Army golden state division). 

There are 2 ways to become a volunteer of the Salvation Army Red Kettle Program. First, you can go to, and here you can enter your city and zip code to find the nearest Red Kettle locations that need volunteers. From these, you can choose which site(s) work for you. You can also head to your nearest Salvation Army location and volunteer right there. The Salvation Army is always in need of bell ringers and you can even get paid for it, though it’s much better if you volunteer.

Photo Provided by Major Raymond R. Erickson-King

Volunteering can lead to talking to people you usually wouldn’t, getting some experience in being involved with the Salvation Army, and really making a difference for great cause. It’s the perfect way to start off your Christmas season and get into the holiday spirit of helping others. Additionally, if you are gifted in music, you can bring your instruments or sing as another way to get donations.

Aside from the Red Kettles, there are many other Salvation Army run donations this Christmas season. At Lucky’s, you can buy food to donate to the Wild Fire victims in both north and south California.  There are also Angel Trees, at which you can pick an angel, or lower income child, who has a wish list of things you can buy for them to provide the child with Christmas presents. Consider donating or volunteering this holiday season. Happy holidays and have a Happy New Years!

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