The iconic red kettles of the Salvation Army and their greeters ringing Christmas bells by store entrances will continue through the challenges of an eventful 2020 – with added precautions.
The kettles will be frequently wiped down with disinfectant to keep them clean. The volunteers will also be trained to keep themselves and others safe. Both the Christmas cheer and services of the Salvation Army will continue, no matter the circumstances.
“Christmas will look different this year,” said Lt. Adolph Aguirre, the commanding officer of the Salvation Army of Hidalgo County. “Our challenge all year has been keeping everyone safe while still offering services.”
The red kettles of the Salvation Army began in San Francisco in 1891. Army Captain Joseph McFee set out to provide a free Christmas dinner for those in need. The captain was a native of the seaport of Liverpool, England. He recalled how a large iron kettle was placed at a boat landing there.
Passers-by tossed coins in the kettle to help the poor. McFee resolved to do the same in San Francisco. From that start on the west coast, the red kettles spread across the United States. They will be back for the Christmas season of 2020. Restrictions will not diminish the work and spirit of the Salvation Army.
Aguirre said there has not been a drop in the number of retailers hosting the Salvation Army greeters and their kettles. He listed Wal-Mart, Walgreens and Hobby Lobby as major retail sites for the kettles in the Rio Grande Valley.
“All our kettle partners have registered with us again,” Aguirre said. “We’re especially grateful to have them continue with us this year.”
Reaching Out To Help
What the Salvation Army does goes far beyond their holiday presence in front of stores. The social services the organization provides are year-round offerings. Those services have been essential in 2020.
The McAllen facility has extended its emergency shelter services by additional weeks to help families this year. Its daily meals have long been a staple and have continued this year via drive-through delivery.
The Salvation Army was a significant part of relief efforts in July in the wake of Hurricane Hanna coming through the area.The organization provided 5,700 meals a day across seven South Texas counties in the aftermath of the summer hurricane.
“Mayors in those communities were so grateful we were there,” Aguirre said. “We were told there would have been dire consequences without our assistance.”
The Salvation Army in McAllen has assisted thousands of families this year in the broad area from Zapata County west to parts of Cameron County. Its array of social services also includes rental assistance and hygiene kits in addition to its daily meals and emergency shelter.
In giving a tour of the McAllen facility, Aguirre shows the pantries of food it uses to cook meals and offer emergency help to area families. His cooks had just finished another round of meals. He displayed the equipment used to get meals and assistance out quickly when the need and events arise.
Next door is the Salvation Army’s retail store which sells mostly clothing and is a major source for the programs the organization provides. The store was closed for two months in the spring but is now back open on North 23rd Street in McAllen. Aguirre and his staff are also gearing up for their annual toy drive and will do their best under the current circumstances.
“We tried to keep ourselves safe,” Aguirre said. “What happens if we get sick and can’t offer services people need? We’ve taken our shelter and disaster services and training and adopted them to the current environment.”