The first Salvation Army red kettle drive didn't happen at Christmas.
And the kettle wasn't even red.
"An officer in San Francisco wanted to put on a dinner for his people and he didn't have any money," said Major Stephen Carroll Jr. of the Salvation Army Niagara Falls Corps. "So he took a soup kettle from the kitchen and went down to the docks and the sailors contributed their support."
Now, 120 years later, there is no more clear appearance of the holiday season than the arrival of the Army's shiny red kettles and brigades of bell ringers outside stores and markets.
"The red kettle represents one-third of our total budget," Carroll said. "We make our budget on $1 from everyday people."
This holiday season, making that budget will be trickier than usual, Carroll said. That's because many of the red kettle locations are the result of contracts with retailers that begin on Black Friday.
With Thanksgiving coming later in the month of November this year, every available day of bell ringing will be critical. To deal with the compact fundraising schedule, Carroll decided to kick-off his local campaign with a Battle of the Bells Thursday afternoon at the Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls USA.
About a dozen churches and community-based organizations, including the Niagara Gazette, sent bell ringers to the mall in a friendly competition to start the season. The idea came to Carroll when he recalled a red kettle fundraising competition between members of the Rotary Cub and Kiwanis in New Bedford, Massachusetts.
"They really made a big deal out of it," Carroll said.
In addition to the Gazette, the Lewiston Kiwanis and others, a half dozen members of the Niagara Falls First Assembly Church sponsored a kettle and offered pictures in a Christmas scene they created next to the kettle.
"We've participated with the Salvation Army on different outreach programs," said First Assembly Pastor Steve Hinkle. "They help us with our events and now we're helping them with the Battle of the Bells."