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The bells will soon ring for the Salvation Army

The stockings are already hung by the fabricated chimneys with corporate care at stores across the Valley, where shoppers can buy sugar plums — and any other treats they may desire. Soon, however, shoppers will see alongside this display of consumerism another seasonal sight — the Salvation Army bell ringers.

These ringers, made up mostly of community volunteers, are not just ringing in the season, but reminding shoppers that there are those who can only dream of a hot meal for Christmas and presents under a tree. The bell ringers also offer a way to give back to those less fortunate by donating to the Salvation Army Corps.

The Salvation Army will launch its seasonal fundraising kettle drive with luncheons in both Modesto and Turlock.

“It’s an awesome event that everyone in the community looks forward to,” said Carole Stuart, Stanislaus County Salvation Army special events coordinator. “We’re hoping to meet or exceed our past fundraising totals.”

The 22nd annual Kettle Kick-off for Modesto, officially starting the 2014 holiday collection season, will be held Nov. 20 at Modesto Centre Plaza, 1000 L St., in downtown Modesto. Doors open at 11:30 a.m. with activities beginning at 11:45 a.m. and wrapping up at 1:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 and will include a Christmas-themed dinner. The funds raised by the bell ringers helps those who need it, not just during the holidays but year-round. The funds go toward both Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for those who may not be able to provide their own, toys for kids in the area for Christmas or Hanukkah, gift baskets or even basic clothing for those who can’t afford them.

The Turlock Salvation Army will host its annual Kettle Kick-off luncheon on Nov. 18 at the Assyrian American Civic Hall, 2618 N. Golden State Blvd. For tickets or more information, call the Salvation Army in Turlock at (209) 667-6091.

Stuart, who has been with the Salvation Army for 19 years, said Turlock’s event is smaller than Modesto's, but both get the annual holiday collection drive started.

“Ours is the granddaddy, it is the one that started it all and it spread all around the country from here,” Stuart explained. “Ours is the model for the kick-off, it’s pretty exciting.”

The concept of having the ‘Red Kettle’ event came from Salvation Army Captain Joseph McFee back in 1891. He was concerned about how many hungry citizens he saw in the city of San Francisco.

His main goal was to help provide 1,000 Christmas dinners for the city’s poorest individuals on Christmas Day. McFee drew inspiration by looking back on his Navy days in England and how there was a large kettle called “Simpson’s Pot” at Sage Landing, where his boat would come in, and passengers would toss coins into it to help locals that were less fortunate. McFee took that idea and tailored it to fit his own goal, putting out a pot at the Oakland Ferry Landing on Market Street, along with a sign that read “Keep the Pot Boiling.” As he hoped, people contributed and he was able to take that money and bring his vision to fruition, putting on a holiday meal for those who needed it.

Within six years, his vision went from the Bay Area to the East Coast and 150,000 dinners were given out to the hungry nationwide. Fast forward to present day, and nearly four and a half million people are assisted by the Salvation Army during the holiday season. McFee’s vision has also spread overseas as Korea, Japan, Chile and many European countries have the same type of effort.

Last year the program raised an estimated $200,000 during Modesto’s Kettle Kick-off alone. Celebrity teams ‘work’ the crowd gathering donations for the kick-off luncheon, with the bell ringers having seven minutes to collect funds from those attending the event at the Centre Plaza.

In 2013, the team known as The Christmas Angels brought in $44,257 to record the largest collection in the multiple team effort to help out.

The cheerful bell ringers and the shiny red kettles will be out in full force in the region beginning with the start of the holiday shopping season on Nov. 28 – Black Friday – at many of the major retailers including shopping malls, Wal-Mart, SaveMart, Kmart, Target, and many other locations around the Central Valley.

There are several Salvation Army branches in the area including Modesto, Lodi, Turlock, Manteca, Merced and Stockton. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer this season or to make a reservation for the Kettle Kick-off luncheon in Modesto, contact Stuart at (209) 522-3209.

Along with the familiar red kettle holiday drive, The Salvation Army has a number of programs that help people throughout the year, ranging from prison ministries to disaster relief, homeless assistance to providing meals for the hungry.