This time of year, our thoughts often go toward how we can give back and help others in our community.

The Salvation Army’s annual Red Kettle Campaign is the perfect way to help right where you live. You’ll see bright red kettles in the front entrances of many businesses. Many businesses match donations made in the kettles. All sponsors receive recognition throughout the entire kettle campaign. Last year, more than 2,000 toys, 1,600 clothing items, and 600 grocery orders and food donations were also given to children and families along with donations thanks to the Red Kettle campaign.

In Bismarck, Majors John Flanagan and his wife, Faye, oversee the campaign. Major John was born and raised in Bismarck, and got involved with the Salvation Army while attending St. Mary’s Central High. The couple met during a Salvation Army young adult retreat, and have dedicated themselves to the Salvation Army since 1980.

So where did the red kettle idea come from? In December of 1891, Captain Joseph McFee wanted to provide a Christmas dinner for 1,000 poor people in San Francisco. He secured permission to place a brass urn at the Oakland ferry landing. Beside the pot, he placed a sign that read, “Keep the Pot Boiling.” Soon, he had all the money he needed to fund the Christmas dinner.

By 1893 he had expanded to 30 kettle locations on the West Coast with the help from two Salvation Army officers, William A. McIntyre and N.J. Lewis. McIntyre and Lewis were later transferred to the East Coast and took with them the Christmas kettle idea. Their effort, combined with the West Coast, resulted in 150,000 Christmas dinners for the poor nationwide by 1897.

Red kettles soon spread to the Big Apple. In 1901, kettle donations in New York City funded a massive sit-down Christmas dinner at Madison Square Garden. The meal became a tradition for many years. The rest, as they say, is history. Captain McFee’s idea launched a tradition that has spread across the world. The Salvation Army in Bismarck opened in May 15, 1896 and soon after the bells were ringing.

The Salvation Army benefits the community all year round, and is able to help much of Bismarck this way. A few examples are the food pantry and community meals, the afterschool youth program, utility and rent bill assistance, disaster relief service, and so much more including several fundraisers such as the Joy Shop and Coat Drive.

The Red Kettle campaign is by far the most valuable and beneficial fundraiser held all year. If you or someone you love is willing and able to help out, whether through sponsorship or volunteering as a bell-ringer, you are encouraged to visit the website to sign up or email john_flanagan@usc.salvationarmy.org.