Did your family ever volunteer with a charity such as a soup kitchen, homeless or battered women’s shelter during the holidays? Were you able to make the holidays special for someone less fortunate?
Growing up as I did as a child of parents who worked for The Salvation Army, I think I always knew that there were people who were not as blessed as I was. I grew up around poverty. Even though there were many times when my parents did not have much, we always had food on the table, clothes to wear, a warm and comfortable shelter, and much love. There were always extended family members that made sure we had the things we needed as well, especially since we lived in Alaska and some necessities were not available up there. But I knew that most children in the small village where I grew up were not so fortunate.
After we moved to Washington State, and I had moved out of my parents' home to live in Spokane and attend college, I myself worked for The Salvation Army, in various departments. While I was attending college (mornings), I worked for the Preschool/Day Care/Kindergarten department in the afternoon. When the college quarter ended for the holiday season, my mornings were free for several weeks, and I got a job standing kettles. I did this for two or three years.
Those who stand kettles fall into two categories: those working a minimum-wage, seasonal job; and those volunteering as part of a community service project (you may see members of a Rotary or Kiwanis club take turns ringing the bells, for instance). Most of the people you see fall under the first category. They can be those who are hard up and desperately need a job to provide for themselves and/or a family, or hey can be simply students on break or people working a second job to make a little extra Christmas money. The donations received go into The Salvation Army's general fund, and stay within that community, even if there is not a corps (church) in that community. The Army works with social service organizations within small communities if they themselves do not have a corps there. Monies are used year-round for a variety of social services, including--but not limited to--alcohol and drug rehabilitation programs, food and clothing banks, family shelters, emergency financial services (rent, utilites, etc.), summer and day camp opportunities for low-income children, etc. This Army fights against poverty 365 days a year, not just at Christmastime. As a branch of the Christian church, they also go beyond meeting the physical need by providing spiritual comfort and counseling as well.
Standing kettles outside in the snowy northern states is no picnic, believe me, you. I don't know which was worse: working downtown on a north-south street where the wind from the river came knifing through, or standing in front of K-Mart in North Spokane, where the cold would come over the plain full-blast. I would wear my ski suit and move around as much as possible to keep warm. At night, my neck and upper back would be so sore from hunching up for four hours straight, all morning long, and I would hear the bell ringing in my head as I fell asleep.
These days I try to drop some money in a kettle whenever I see one; however, since I don't tend to carry cash with me, it's not always possible. I know from experience just how encouraging it is when someone donates. The next time you see a Salvation Army kettle, I hope you will give, too.
This post is a part of the "Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories" meme created in 2007 by Thomas and Jasia. You, too, can write your own Christmas memories, either for your personal journal or blog. Visit Geneabloggers to participate and to read others' posts on these topics.