Two area residents enjoy a lunch at the Salvation Army van stationed in downtown Van Wert Tuesday morning. The van was downtown to mark the kickoff of red kettle collections for the Christmas season. (Times Bulletin/Lindsay McCoy)
Two area residents enjoy a lunch at the Salvation Army van stationed in downtown Van Wert Tuesday morning. The van was downtown to mark the kickoff of red kettle collections for the Christmas season. (Times Bulletin/Lindsay McCoy)

BY LINDSAY MCCOY
Times Bulletin News Writer
lmccoy@timesbulletin.com

VAN WERT - The Salvation Army of Van Wert was stationed in front of the Van Wert County Courthouse Tuesday morning for the annual kickoff of the red kettle and bells collections for the Christmas season. Tuesday also marked the kickoff of the Toss-A-Toy program sponsored by Lee Kinstle GM Sales & Service.

"We are here offering people lunch and are on a live remote with the radio station to make the public aware of the kettle campaign," said Major Arthur Barter of the Van Wert Salvation Army. The Salvation Army Vehicle in front of the Courthouse served hot dogs, popcorn, cupcakes, and warm beverages to all those passing by and spread the word of this year's red kettle campaign.

The red kettles and bell ringers will be stationed at seven locations throughout Van Wert, including two at Walmart, two at Main Street Market, one at Big Lots, one at Save A Lot, and one at Rural King. Collections from the kettle campaign act as the Salvation Army's annual appeal during the holidays, and money collected from this season is used to pay for holiday food baskets and other holiday helpers. The remaining money is used to support the Van Wert Salvation Army throughout the following year.

"Stop by a red kettle and make it happen," remarked Major Barter. The red kettle campaign began in 1891 when Salvation Army Captain Joseph McFee wanted to provide Christmas dinners to the poor and hungry residents of his city but was unsure as to how he would fund the idea. McFee pulled the idea of from Liverpool, England, where an iron kettle was placed at the docks to collect money for the poor.

McFee placed a similar pot along the street with a sign that read, "Keep the Pot Boiling," and he soon raised the money he needed. Six years later, the kettle idea spread from the west coast to the Boston area, and that same year became a nationwide effort resulting in 150,000 Christmas dinners for the needy. In 2013, Salvation Armys all over the United States assist more than four-and-a-half million people during the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons.

Toss A Toy was a program started by Lee Kinstle GM Sales & Service of Van Wert in combination with Toys for Tots. When Toys for Tots left in 2012, Lee Kinstle's approached the local Salvation Army to help with the continuation of Toss A Toy.

"It was a great help for us," said Major Barter. "Last year our building looked like a Toys R Us. They have been doing a great job, and this program brings in enough toys for the toy baskets at Christmas time."