The Spirit of the Community
The Salvation Army Kettle Kickoff
Here in Stanislaus County, we might dream about a white Christmas, but we certainly don’t expect one. Even so, there are still some surefire ways to know that the holidays have come around again. One of the biggest tipoffs is also the event of the season in Turlock and Modesto: the Salvation Army Kettle Kickoff.
If you’re a charity-minded individual, the twenty-one year old annual event is certainly already one of the highlights of your holiday calendar. But here’s a primer for the uninitiated. The Salvation Army Kettle Kickoff is a community lunch and fundraising event that marks the beginning of the holiday season for the major nonprofit’s iconic bell ringer volunteer force. At the annual events, which date back to 1992 in Modesto, speakers for the Salvation Army present the charity’s message and goals for the future, then kick off the season with an energetic seven minute spree by fundraising groups all competing to collect the most money from guests and attendees.
Each year, the Kettle Kickoff event raises jaw-dropping amounts of money to keep the Salvation Army’s many charitable programs going. Over the last 20 years, the event has raised over $2 million to support the Army’s work in Stanislaus County. Last year alone, the events in Modesto and Turlock added over $275,000 to this total, much of this coming in within that hectic seven minute dash.
I love the sense of community, the way people come together that day. It’s just such a wonderful George Bailey moment and just the best community event ever. –Lynn Dickerson
But according to Lynn Dickerson, who has been a member of the Christmas Angels—one of the most effective fundraising teams at the event—for the last 10 years, the fundraising goes way beyond frenzied donations. “It’s not just showing up for the seven minutes,” says Dickerson. “You really do have to do a lot of work ahead of time.” This work includes major fundraising efforts and word spreading on behalf of the Salvation Army, an organization which has a tremendous impact on the community. From shielding people from hunger, homelessness, sickness, injury and mental struggles, the Army helps rescue people who are on the edge of poverty, and gives homeless people and those in severe need the opportunity to change their lives and become productive parts of the community. And the funds raised at the Kettle Kickoff enable the Army to do this work.
“I often invite people who are new to the community to join me at my table,” added Dickerson. “[Kettle Kickoff] epitomizes all the things that are right about Modesto. I love the sense of community, the way people come together that day. It’s just such a wonderful George Bailey moment and just the best community event ever.”
Major Debbi Shrum, who leads the Salvation Army’s Turlock chapter, says that the annual Turlock event pulls in as much as $75,000 each year. “We do have a very kind anonymous donor who has given us a $50,000 check over the years,” said Shrum. “That helps!”
According to Kristin Bettencourt, a member of the Turlock chapter’s Advisory Board, around 92% of the funds donated at Turlock’s Kettle Kickoff return to the community.
“We really do want the money to go back to the community,” added Shrum. “We want everything that we do to make better chances for people to have a better and safer life.”
Shrum said that much of the money raised at the event often goes to help locals in need make it through Christmas. The chapter partners with Turlock Together, which helps Turlock families with food and toys during the holidays, as well as assisting with TID’s REACH program which helps low-income residents pay their heating bills. “Year round, we continue to get food for families. We provide food boxes for families that can get them at least a couple days worth of food in case they can’t make ends meet properly.” Other recipients include an afterschool tutoring program, one which provides children the supplies they need for school and a full-fledged senior program.
Over the last 20 years, the Kettle Kickoff has become an essential part of Stanislaus County’s charity-minded identity. From a small event masterminded by local charity legends Bette Belle Smith and Hugh Barton to two annual celebrations that draw nearly two thousand local leaders, the Kettle Kickoff is a can’t miss celebration of the spirit of our community.
Modesto’s Kettle Kickoff will be held at Modesto Centre Plaza on November 21 from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm; Turlock’s event is scheduled for November 19 from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm at the Assyrian American Club of Turlock.