Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Notes From My Knapsack 12-05-04
By Jeff Gill
Red kettles and ringing bells have long been part of the Christmas season; they are one of the best known fundraisers around, supporting the Salvation Army throughout the English-speaking world.
Our local Salvation Army post, which is both a provider of services to the poor and homeless and also a church with a congregation like all posts of this peaceful army, has a magnificent history of care and comfort in Licking County. Nationwide, the Salvation Army has one of the finest track records around for fair use and open accountability for all funds entrusted to them, going back a hundred years and more.
Which made it all the more newsworthy when Target, Best Buy, and Giant Eagle decided this year to ban the bellringers at their store entrances during the holiday season. In fairness to those stores, they all have a “no solicitation” policy to which, traditionally, they made an exception for the Salvation Army. So the change is, they would point out, not a ban but an end to making exceptions for anyone. Hmmm. OK.
Some have called for a barrage of e-mails and letters to the CEOs at corporate headquarters, complaints to store managers (who have no say in this, by the way), and even boycotts. For those who miss this Christmas staple of the shopping experience, there may be a certain sense to those actions, and for myself, having stood in the cold and rung the bells and worked with their programs to the point of being made an honorary captain in their army in West Virginia, my sympathy is with the “bring back the kettle” crowd.
There is another way of looking at this, however. These (insert insulting adjective here) CEOs may be doing all of us a favor, unintentionally.
First, they’re taking away our ability to kid ourselves that a few dollar bills here and there when convenient is really doing our part to spread Christmas cheer to the most desperate in our community. We can think of our kettle contribution as our own anti-Scrooge inoculation, but five to ten dollar bills don’t buy the goods and services they once did in our homes, so why would it be different for Major DeMichael on East Main Street? If you want to shop exclusively at kettle-friendly stores, fine; better yet, send a check to 250 E. Main, Newark 43055 and make it $20 or $50 or $100 . . . you know what you can do. Or make a donation through a virtual kettle at, where you can designate our area for your gift on-line.
And how’bout that on-line shopping, anyhow? If more and more people are shopping through the internet, then the kettles at the door are passed by less of us no matter where they go, and we need to learn new ways of giving.
Or even virtual cash is part of the changing landscape: with less cash changing hands, the fiscal model of “break a twenty at the register, give the change at the kettle” doesn’t work as well. Swipe your card to purchase, to buy dinner, in making reservations, and pass the bellringer without a qualm because you have nothing that goes in the slot on top, right? Even churches are having to rethink Sunday offering with the rise of a truly cashless society, with committed, regular giving the only kind that really is going to show up in the plate or on the financial secretary’s desk.
Will I miss the Salvation Army presence in Christmas shopping? Sure I will, but I won’t miss the good feeling of knowing I’m part of the solution, not part of the problem. Give consciously, give intentionally, and give generously, whether through your church, the Licking County Coalition for Housing, the Center for New Beginnings, or the American Red Cross (they’re all in the book). Those are some that have a solid reputation and that I know to do good, gracious work here in our area.
And smile at the bellringers you do pass; they appreciate it more than you know, even if you don’t have any cash to contribute that time around. Nothing is warmer during the Christmas season.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and occasional preacher around central Ohio and Licking County. If you have news or notes to share for the knapsack, e-mail him at

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