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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Salvation Army’s Red Kettle collections go to various programs

The Salvation Army officially launched its 2011 Red Kettle Campaign at a lunch at the Davenport Hotel on Tuesday. The bell ringers are already out in force and the stories are trickling in about unusual items landing in the familiar red kettles.

One bell ringer found a $1,500 anonymous cashier’s check in a kettle. Salvation Army spokesperson Sheila Geraghty speculated that perhaps the check is from the same person who’s dropped gold pieces in kettles in previous years.

“We will of course never know, but perhaps he ran out of gold and went for a cashier’s check instead?” Geragthy said last week.

It was a note from another anonymous giver that stole the show at the Christmas lunch.

Salvation Army Captain Kyle Smith explained how a kettle ringer found a silver coin wrapped in a note from a man who writes that he’s kept the coin for 20 years. Now his life is falling apart, his house is in foreclosure, he’s filing for bankruptcy and he has no retirement left.

“But I still know their(sic) are families in worse shape,” the giver wrote. “It’s probably worth $30 – bring some cheer to people in worse shape than me.”

And that, said Smith, is typical of how people in Spokane give even though they may not have a lot left for themselves.

“I don’t know this man, but I sure hope I meet him – this is a blessing,” Smith said, holding up the note.

Several hundred people attended the lunch in the Pennington Ballroom at the Davenport Hotel and the menu was appropriately humble: a simple salad, soup and bread.

“We are paying tribute to the red kettle which was a soup kettle,” said Smith. “As you eat, think of the soup kitchens around the country and in our community.”

A few attendees needed their napkins to wipe away tears, as Salvation Army staff and volunteers shared brief stories about clients who’ve been helped through their programs.

Stories like the 9-year-old boy who arrived at Sally’s House after having been almost starved to death by his foster family. He’d lost skin on his wrists and legs because he was tied to a bed on a regular basis. During his time at Sally’s House he gained 40 pounds and developed an insatiable appetite for learning.

“These stories are the reason why we do what we do,” said Smith. “Remember, donations are not helping The Salvation Army, they are helping people in Spokane.”

Last year, the Red Kettle Campaign collected around $333,000 which goes toward programs like Sally’s House, which serves homeless kids, and Stepping Stones which helps women in transition.

“This is our biggest fundraiser of the year,” said Teresa Venne, chair of the Salvation Army Advisory Board. “It’s also a way for us to support the bell ringers. For many of them, this is the only job they have all year.” Some bell ringers volunteer their time. Those who are paid earn minimum wage. There are about 50 bell ringers out there already.

“We have two or three shifts during the day, and more on the weekends,” Venne said.

On Monday, one bell ringer found a diamond ring wrapped in a dollar bill at the end of the day.

“It was very clear that this was someone who wanted to give us the ring; it didn’t just slip off someone’s finger,” said Venne, adding that even the smallest amount of change dropped in a kettle makes a difference. “It all adds up. Every cent adds up. This is a huge part of what we do.”

Smith said that fundraising during a period of economic recession has its challenges and that he hates asking for money.

“I’m not going to deny that some people in need made some very bad decisions to get there,” Smith said. “Some turn their lives around. Some don’t. But we’ve got to help them because it makes us better people.”

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