Guest blog, Terry Gaines, a longtime Center of Hope volunteer.
The sound of the jingling bell by the bright red Salvation Army kettle, for me, signals the arrival of the Christmas season. It’s one of those memories that’s been with me for so long, I can’t actually remember the beginning – I just knew that whenever we saw a kettle, my father was going to toss in some money. And so as an adult, I’ve carried on my father’s tradition. I find it impossible to ignore one of those kettles because of something my Dad said many years ago: “If it weren’t for the Salvation Army, there were years when I wouldn’t have had a Christmas.”
As kids, my sisters and I had what we needed – maybe not the designer jeans or coolest car I wanted (I drove a Chevy Vega!) – but we were safe, well-fed, and doing well by middle-class American standards. My father gave us few details about his own childhood until recently. I learned that his family had to move a lot because they couldn’t pay the rent; he and his sister, Joan, frequently had to stay with relatives; and on many occasions their clothing and Christmas toys were given to them by the Salvation Army. As long as my father can remember (for at least 35 years), he has made an annual Christmas contribution to the Salvation Army so that other children will wake up to food on their table and surprises under their tree.
This Advent season as I have the opportunity to fill a stocking for a child, select a gift tag from the Angel Tree, serve dinner at the Center of Hope and toss a stash of quarters into a red Salvation Army kettle, I will imagine my father as a boy and give thanks for the kindness of strangers who cared for him.
“You are Christ’s body – that’s who you are! You must never forget this” (1 Corinthians 12:27).