An Active Army

Bell ringers

David Webber, a retired veteran of the U.S. Army Reserves, has been at the Salvation Army’s Pittsfield, Mass., Corps for the past five years. A well–known figure in the community, he first came to The Salvation Army to take part in its daily breakfasts. Today, he’s the face of the corps’ kettle season, and one of their most successful bell ringers.

“During the first weeks that David rang the bell, we saw a spike in donations at his places,” says Captain Elliott Higgins, corps officer at Pittsfield. “His locations weren’t big stores where a kettle would normally do well. When we moved him to be at better–known stops and supermarkets, his numbers were even better.

“But it’s not just about the donations that his kettles bring in,” says Captain Higgins. “David represents The Salvation Army and the Lord in such a way that it makes me wish every corps had at least one person like him.”

“Knowing that I can help an organization like The Salvation Army brightens my own day,” says Webber. “I love meeting the people who come up to me to donate or ask about the corps.”

Webber relishes his role as bell ringer and exudes joy every day he’s next to a kettle. “I remember one time, my bell broke while I was ringing it,” says Webber laughing. “Maybe I rang it too hard or I just grabbed an old one that day. So, with no bell, I just started saying ‘Merry Christmas’ to people walking by, left and right. You have to make the best of it sometimes.”

“The holidays can be very stressful for some,” says Captain Higgins. “You always see people rushing around or others with their head hung down. David has a talent for reaching out to those folks.”

Some of them also reach back to him. He’s learned that, even in difficult times, many are still happy to give. “People share the hardships of their daily lives with me. Other times, they talk about having recently lost someone dear to them,” says Webber. “But even those hurting folks want to donate something. They give in memory of their lost loved one or even as a ‘thank you’ for taking the time to listen to them during a busy day.” 

Bell ringing can be a tiring, difficult task when the numbers aren’t as good as other days, but Webber also remembers to never let it get him down.

“Bell ringers can feel discouraged about having an off day. But they have to remember that just the fact that they’re showing up and taking time to help the Army makes them good, hardworking people. There will always be days when your kettle isn’t as full as you’d like,” says Webber.

“I have days like that too. But even in those days, I still seem to get a smile from everyone who walks by.”

by Hugo Bravo


In December of 1891, Captain Joseph McFee, a Salvation Army officer in San Francisco, Calif., wanted to raise money to host a dinner for 1,000 needy people. He remembered his time as a sailor in Liverpool, England, where local charities collected donations in a pot at the city’s docks.

McFee secured permission to place a brass urn at the Oakland Ferry Landing, along with a bell to ring and a sign that read, “Keep the Pot Boiling.” McFee soon raised the money for the Christmas dinner. The following year, Captain McFee’s idea expanded to 30 kettle locations on the west coast. He received help from two young officers named William A. McIntyre and N.J. Lewis.

Captain McFee’s idea soon reached the east coast. In 1897 while stationed in Boston, McIntyre, his wife, and his sister set up three kettles in the center of the city. That year, the Christmas kettles across the United States resulted in 150,000 Christmas dinners for the poor. In 1901, Salvation Army bell ringers in New York collected enough money to host a massive sit–down Christmas dinner at Madison Square Garden.

Today, bell ringers and their red kettles are in far–away countries such as South Korea, Chile, and Australia, all raising money to continue the Army’s mission of doing the most good.

Source: The Salvation Army USA Western Territory