Stories from a Kettle Volunteer

by Ontario Great Lakes
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    One of our wonderful Kettle Volunteers documented several interesting and inspiring stories that were shared with her during the 2017 Kettle Campaign.

    Londoner, Ann Marie Allen volunteered her time to work 17 kettle shifts.

    This is what she learned.

    2017 Kettle Campaign Stories

    One of the gifts of being a Kettle Campaign volunteer is the wonderful stories I hear. Yesterday a man in his 70’s told me of how the Salvation Army helped his family when he was a young boy. Been paying it forward ever since.

    Today I heard time and time again about how the Salvation Army helped families during the war. As well as after veterans returned home. Those with memories of much needed acts of kindness and help want to give to say thanks. Children, now grown remembering.

    Trevor is seven days sober from a Meth addiction. He put change in the kettle. As I left, I met him outside holding a sign asking for bystanders help. He had put all his money in the kettle. So I bought him a pizza and a drink. He wants to become a kettle volunteer so he can encourage others. My heart is warmed.

    Yesterday I wished a gentleman Merry Christmas at the exit doors of a store I was posted at. He (like some others) walked by without acknowledging my greeting. He went out to his car and got in then suddenly got back out, returned to the doors and said Merry Christmas back to me.

    Tonight I was at a grocery store. My favourite interaction at the Christmas kettle was with an older Muslim gentleman. We talked at length about the need and poverty in London. He has some great insights. I could have talked with him all evening.

    One of my most enjoyable encounters is with the children. There was a bench beside me last evening and I ended up with five children between the ages of 5 and 7 joining me. We each had a copy of the children’s handout, trying to find the eight differences in the pictures. I could only find five. After over half an hour, my team of experts fared no better. They each put coins in the kettle and promised to keep looking. Good luck team.

    Today something took place at a kettle that nearly brought me to tears. A young single mom came to kettle and apologized that she only had forty cents to give. She was obviously embarrassed but wanted to give what she had. I had a loonie in my pocket so I dropped it in her hand and said, “Now you have a dollar, forty.” She said, in a soft quiet voice, that Salvation Army helps her with her kids and she is so grateful. A man had come up to the kettle to add his donation and must have heard our interaction and he dropped all his change in her hand too. She put it in the kettle and, with a faint shy smile, moved on. The man never knew that I saw the fifty dollar bill he put in her hand outside the door. That is Christmas.

    Tonight I was at Cherryhill Mall. An elderly male put some coins in the kettle. It wasn’t hard to tell Christmas was hard for him. He is lonely. Very lonely. I know that feeling at Christmas. I told him I would like his company if he had a few minutes (after all isn’t caring for people why I’m there?). He sat and we just shared small safe talk. Every few minutes he popped up and put more coins in the kettle (I felt a bit like a vending machine). After a few minutes I told him Christmas made me sad because it reminds me of all I have lost. He listened, blew his nose (fed the kettle) and said he really didn’t know why he felt so sad but he did. “What did I do to change it?” he asked. I said, “nothing, that’s just part of Christmas. Part of Christmas includes sadness. So it’s okay.” This time he got up to feed the kettle but remained standing. I said “Merry Christmas.” And my 2017 kettle experience ended a little while later. The elderly stranger went out into the dark starry night. I hope he looks up to see the stars.

    On Friday evening at 6pm it was a very cold windy 35 minute wait for a city bus at a dark open bus stop. The young Hindu man who joined me was from Southern India and studying at the college. I asked him his plans during his college break. He asked me to explain Christmas to him. I explained the religious reasons and meaning of the Christmas story and then the customs and spirit of Christmas. In turn he talked about what he knew of his faith. He told me he really liked when people said “Merry Christmas” – to him and to each other. He said most of the time their voices were smiling. I wished him a Merry Christmas as the bus pulled up. He wished the bus driver a Merry Christmas. By the way, he has been invited for Christmas dinner. I made sure of that. Now he can hardly wait. Merry Christmas young man.

    Well, that’s my final shift for Kettles 2017. People were very generous today at both places I worked. Lot of stories of The Salvation Army helping their family.

    A man told me how he would sneak the food box in the backdoor to the basement for his mom while his sibling kept their inebriated father busy at the front door. If they didn’t, their drunken father would assault The Salvation Army worker and throw the food out on the ground.

    Gratitude from the daughter of immigrants who remembers The Salvation Army helping her parents when they arrived here.

    A lot of smiles and sincere desires to help The Salvation Army do their work. A high level of trust that the donations would indeed go to the work it was destined for.

    The children always make me smile. Their shyness as they put their donation in the kettle. Then the huge smile as the satisfaction floods over them.

    -Ann Marie Allen