What is the Red Kettle?

Red KettleHistory

In 1891, Salvation Army Captain Joseph McFee was distraught because so many poor individuals in San Francisco were going hungry. During the holiday season, he resolved to provide a free Christmas dinner for the destitute and poverty-stricken. He only had one major hurdle to overcome — funding the project.

Where would the money come from, he wondered. He lay awake nights, worrying, thinking, praying about how he could find the funds to fulfill his commitment of feeding 1,000 of the city’s poorest individuals on Christmas Day. As he pondered the issue, his thoughts drifted back to his sailor days in Liverpool, England. He remembered how at Stage Landing, where the boats came in, there was a large, iron kettle called “Simpson’s Pot” into which passers-by tossed a coin or two to help the poor.

The next day Captain McFee placed a similar pot at the Oakland Ferry Landing at the foot of Market Street. Beside the pot, he placed a sign that read, “Keep the Pot Boiling.” He soon had the money to see that the needy people were properly fed at Christmas.

Six years later, the kettle idea spread from the west coast to the Boston area. That year, the combined effort nationwide resulted in 150,000 Christmas dinners for the needy. In 1901, kettle contributions in New York City provided funds for the first mammoth sit-down dinner in Madison Square Garden, a custom that continued for many years. Today in the U.S., The Salvation Army assists more than four-and-a-half million people during the Thanksgiving and Christmas time periods. Donations raised through our Christmas Red Kettle Campaign fund a vast range of Salvation Army services and programs that impact 30 million Americans year round.

Red Kettles Today

Captain McFee’s kettle idea launched a tradition that has spread not only throughout the United States, but all across the world. Kettles are now used in such distant lands as Korea, Japan, Chile and many European countries. From its humble beginnings in San Francisco, the Red Kettle Campaign has grown into one of the most recognizable and important charitable campaigns in the United States and it continues to adapt, providing innovative new ways to participate. The Red Kettle Kickoff marks the beginning of an exciting holiday season for The Salvation Army. In addition, there are many other ways to get involved:

  • Form a Red Kettle Club at your middle school or high school and volunteer!
  • 25,000 Red Kettles are stationed at storefronts and street corners nationwide. Give of your time, your pocket change or both!
  • #RedKettleReason: Those who share their #RedKettleReason online through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube can see their posts on RedKettleReason.org. The site serves as a hub for #RedKettleReason conversations around the country and features an interactive mosaic of pictures, videos and information. “It’s been truly inspiring to see every #RedKettleReason shared from around the country. It proves that giving is a universal language,” said Lieutenant Colonel Ron Busroe, national community relations and development secretary for The Salvation Army. “We know that for many, the choice to donate is a sacrifice, and we’re very happy to see why people choose to support the Army and those it serves.”
  • Rock the Red Kettle Concert: hosted by The Salvation Army, the annual event features some of music’s rising young stars and takes place in downtown Los Angeles on the stage at L.A. LIVE. A live stream of the concert is available at RedKettleReason.org.
  • Online Red Kettle: Throughout the season, Americans can become virtual bell ringers by starting their own Online Red Kettle at onlineredkettle.org.
  • Text-to-Give: For the mobile donor, it’s easy to give $10 by texting the word “KETTLE” to 80888 and replying “YES.”*
  • Angel Tree: To support an Angel in your town, contact your local Salvation Army by entering your zip code at salvationarmyusa.org

The Salvation Army, an evangelical part of the universal Christian church established in London in 1865, has been supporting those in need in His name without discrimination for more than 130 years in the United States. Nearly 30 million Americans receive assistance from The Salvation Army each year through a range of social services: providing food for the hungry, relief for disaster victims, assistance for the disabled, outreach to the elderly and ill, clothing and shelter to the homeless, and opportunities for underprivileged children. 82 cents of every dollar The Salvation Army spends is used to support those services in 5,000 communities nationwide. For more information about The Salvation Army, please visit salvationarmyusa.org.












*A one-time donation of $10 will be added to your mobile phone bill or deducted from your prepaid balance. Message and data rates may apply. All charges are billed by and payable to your mobile service provider. Service is available on Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile. All purchases must be authorized by account holder. By participating, you certify that you are 18 years or older and/or have parental permission. Donations are collected for The Salvation Army and subject to the terms found at igfn.org/t. Privacy policy: igfn.org/p. Text STOP to 80888 to stop; Text HELP to 80888 for help.