Bells Will Be Ringing in Rogers County

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Local “celebrities,” such as members of the Rogers County Sheriff’s Office, have served as bell ringers in past years.

With the holidays upon us, so are a flood of sights and sounds of the Christmas season.

If you listen carefully – over the sounds of ubiquitous Christmas music, church choir performances, stressed-out shoppers, and children reciting their Christmas wish lists to Santa at the mall – above it all, rises the sound of the ringing of a bell – the sound of hope.

This year, the annual Salvation Army Red Kettle Campaign returns to help provide millions of our friends and neighbors in crisis with food, shelter, disaster relief and more.

In Rogers County, the familiar Red Kettles have been appearing for the past few weeks and will remain in front of participating merchant’s storefronts, raising money for those in need, and stationed by area residents armed with a bell and hearts filled with goodwill.

“We’re part of Salvation Army, but we’re unique (in Rogers County) in that, first of all, we’re all volunteers,” said Jerry Hayes, event manager, Salvation Army of Rogers County. “Not only the Salvation Army crew here in Rogers County, but everyone who rings the bell here is a volunteer – that’s quite a different story than anywhere else that I know of.

“Other branches use some volunteers, but where we are, we’re all volunteers, so the money we raise here doesn’t have any ‘overhead’ if you will,” he continued. “We do pay some administrative fees to Tulsa, but basically, the money we generate, we put back into the community – the community being Rogers County.”

The origins of the Red Kettle itself date back more than 125 years.

In 1891, Captain Joseph McFee of the Salvation Army had hoped to provide Christmas meals for more than 1,000 people in the San Francisco area, and he remembered a pot on the docks of Liverpool from his days as a sailor. McFee then requested permission to put a pot on the docs at Oakland, and with permission granted, did so, and the proceeds raised from this first pot or kettle raised proceeds to feed thousands.

He did the same in more than 30 locations over the next two years, and after he was transferred to Boston in 1897, he set up three pots in the center of the city and raised funds to feed 150,000 people nationwide.

Red Kettles soon began appearing in New York, and Captain McFee’s idea spread across the country and throughout the world at Salvation Army outposts.

While the Red Kettle is firmly established as part of the Salvation Army’s past, it continues to be a symbol of hope and means to raise funds to help those in need as the organization moves into the future.

“Last year, there was 961 hours of bell-ringing (in Rogers County), but this year, we’re shooting for more than 1,900 hours – the reason this number is so much higher this year than last is that we’ve added Catoosa, which had previously been out of the Tulsa area,” Hayes said. “We’ve taken that over this year, so the bell ringers there are under the Rogers County umbrella this year.”

In Rogers County, bell ringers will be stationed from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Reasor’s, Walmart, and the new 10Box Cost Plus (formerly Warehouse Market) in Claremore, at Walmart and Reasor’s in Catoosa, as well, at Apple Market in Oologah, and at Harp’s Food Store in Inola.

Bell ringers started shifts on the day after Thanksgiving at Walmarts, earlier in November at other locations, and this year the Red Kettle Campaign will continue through Christmas, stationed by volunteers from local churches, civic groups, and individuals wanting to make a difference in their community.

“One thing that’s unique about this year, and not in a good way, is that there are five fewer days in the calendar than there were last year, so we’re going to try to reach our goal in fewer (calendar) days,” he said. “They’ll be ringing right up to 6:00 on Christmas Eve.”

Even with fewer days to raise funds, the Salvation Army of Rogers County’s goal is a lofty one -- $90,000 –but one which both Hayes and Graves feel can be reached through volunteer efforts and the generosity of the public.

Funds raised through the Salvation Army of Rogers County’s Red Kettle Campaign are distributed through the local Community Action, Resource and Development (CARD) office.

Where does the money go?

“The Red Kettle Campaign benefits several organizations here in Rogers County, such as Food4Kids, for example,” said Angie Graves, Salvation Army of Rogers County volunteer and director of Food4Kids. “This program, which is now in its 11th year, sends home food every Friday with 425 kids in Rogers County Schools. We pack 1,700 bags of food a month, which is distributed to the different school districts for those students to take home to have something to eat over the weekend – something which they might not have, if not for this program.”

Funding for the Food4Kids program is made possible from money raised during the Red Kettle Campaign, as well as from United Way, Cherokee Nation, Sodexo, Rogers County Bank, ESA Gamma Pi, Inola chapter, individuals, churches, organizations, businesses and small grants. Sponsorship of one child in the Food4Kids program is $125 per year, although any amount donated is appreciated, Graves said.

Other programs that benefit from the Red Kettle Campaign are the Salvation Army Summer Camp, which sends 40-50 students ages 7-12 from low-income families to Camp Heart O’Hills in Tahlequah and homeless assistance.

“All these different programs – and helping our neighbors in need – are where the money goes (from the Red Kettle Campaign),” Hayes said. “Giving hope to our neighbors – that’s what we’re here for, that’s what we’re all about.”

The Red Kettle Campaign in Rogers County is ongoing and will continue through 6 p.m. Christmas Eve.

For more information about the Rogers County Salvation Army, visit Donations may be made by mail to Rogers County Salvation Army, P.O. Box 2728, Claremore, OK, 74018.

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