The Salvation Army of Summit County needs your help. The organization needs volunteers to ring the hand bells at the iconic red collection kettles around the area this holiday season. Operating in one- or two-hour shifts, volunteers will carry forth an annual tradition that began in San Francisco in 1891.
When Salvation Army officer Captain Joseph McFee wished to provide a free Christmas dinner to the poor of San Francisco, he recalled a sight he saw in Liverpool, England, from his days as a sailor. McFee remembered a large pot displayed on the Stage Landing, called “Simpson’s Pot.” The pot took donations put in by people passing by.
McFee asked for permission from San Francisco city authorities to place a crab pot and tripod at the Oakland ferry landing. The kettle along with calls of “Keep the Pot Boiling!” drew in donations. Over the years, the color changed from black to red and continues to this day as the Salvation Army’s most famous street campaign.
The organization itself had its origins in London, England, in 1865, when William Booth began to spread the gospel to the homeless, hungry and destitute people there. Booth challenged the accepted concept of church and took his preaching to the streets. He began to travel throughout England, conducting evangelistic meetings, and he quickly became well known as a religious leader whose followers were dedicated to fighting for the souls of all men and women.
Booth’s “Army” grew from 10 full-time workers in 1867 to 1,000 volunteers and 42 evangelists seven years later. The name changed from “The Christian Mission” to the “Salvation Army” in 1878. In the mid-1880s, the ministry migrated to America with the first meeting taking place in Philadelphia.
The Summit County unit has served the greater Akron area since 1884. Originally located on North Main Street, the group moved to a building on East Exchange Street then to the present location in 1971. The unit provides emergency family shelter, financial assistance for rent and utility payments and feeding programs such as hot meals, pantry, direct food distribution and homeless mobile outreach.
Children’s programs include overnight summer camp, day care, after-school care, and summer enrichment. The Salvation Army also visits the elderly, disabled and those imprisoned. A 60-bed resident rehabilitation program is provided for those struggling with addictions. Disaster services and emergency response also are provided as needed. In 2012, 50,297 individuals were served and 376,939 services were provided to those in need.
But it takes volunteers to make those programs work. Michael Simpkins, director of Business, said, “We need volunteers, we need help. The kettle campaign is really only effective if it is driven by volunteers. There are more hours than we have people to fill them,” he said.
“The face of the army isn’t the staff members, it’s not really even the officers, it’s the volunteers. That’s what the Salvation Army is about. It’s about the volunteers. We couldn’t function without volunteers,” Simpkins added. “They could function without me; they could always get another officer. But if you lose the volunteers – forget it – everything collapses. It’s hundreds and hundreds of dedicated hours every week they’ll be here. They want nothing in return, they want to do it. The bulk of the services are really coming from volunteers – and not just the kettle campaign, but year round,” he added.
J. J. Weber, volunteer coordinator, said there are many volunteer websites out there that bring individuals to the organization such as volunteermatch.com and United Way. Business Volunteers Unlimited (BVU) is another resource, where companies may go to find out about volunteer opportunities. Sometimes it’s word-of-mouth, though, and the different departments each do their part. For example, the daycare center has people who come to them that are interested and they are sent to Weber, who schedules them.
The Resource and Development department works with companies that are interested in doing something and they get sent to Weber, who goes through all of the projects that are going on – what needs to be done – to get a feel of what they want to do as far as individual work: do they want to work in the homeless shelters, or the soup kitchen, or do they want to paint?
“Do you want to adopt a room and remodel it, or do you want to do just general white hallways and [things like that]?” said Weber. “Maintenance is important because the appearance of the building says a lot about the stewardship of how we take care of what God has given us. It’s a lot of up-keep, it’s a really big facility, a big campus,” she added.
Interested volunteers may contact the Salvation Army by phone — (330) 762-8481, by Twitter (@RedKettles) or through the organization’s Facebook page. The Summit County area Salvation Army is located at 190 South Maple St. in Akron. Office hours are Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Visit www.summit.salvationarmyoh.org.