Tim Wieclawski/metro ottawa


Ray Martel, right, of Orleans donates to the Salvation Army kettle during Metro Ottawa reporter Tracey Tong’s recent shift as a bell-ringer at Ottawa’s Rideau Centre.

Despite the cheerful holiday music, the bling and the bows, the mall’s one of the last places one expects to find something that could be considered true Christmas spirit.

But I did find it there the other day.

One of the more heartwarming sights that has become synonymous with Christmas is the Salvation Army’s Kettle Campaign. Between the volunteers that give of their time to collect donations, and shoppers who choose to give to the less fortunate rather than spend on yet another material item, there’s something about that iconic stand and plastic bubble that gives me the warm fuzzies.

Recently, I donned the oversized red vest and stepped into a volunteer’s shoes to ring the bell for the season’s most visible charity at the Rideau Centre. Although it was mid-day during the workweek, and people were undoubtedly busy with shopping and lunchtime errands, they responded. Donations ranged from small change to bills. One man deposits $20 without a word. A young girl asks her mother for money, and then drops in a toonie.

Another man digs into his pockets and gives me so much change that I need two hands to catch it all. “Put that in for me,” he said. “You can’t walk past without giving them anything,” said Ottawa resident James Rogers. “It’s tradition.”

The Salvation Army — or Salvos, as people in Rogers’ home country of Australia call it — deserves support because they “pick up where the government leaves off,” he said. “They help everything from food banks to homeless shelters. They look after the underprivileged.”

Although University of Ottawa student Charles Dufour doesn’t know anyone who’s used the charity’s services, it’s still important to help, he said.

“There are so many reasons to give, unfortunately,” says Orleans resident Ray Martel.

In its 116th year, the kettle campaign is aiming to raise $500,000 in Ottawa this year, requiring 12,000 volunteer hours to man 52 locations throughout the city. The campaign, which runs through Dec. 24, tends to have loyal, long-term volunteers, said Michael Maidment of the Salvation Army.

“They’re really recognizable,” Maidment said of the kettles. “When you think of movies about Christmas, there is always a kettle scene. People really recognize and associate with it.”

This year, one of the Salvation Army’s goals is to reach out to a younger set of donors and volunteers, which they’ve accomplished by establishing an online presence on Facebook and on blogs and even a dedicated virtual site called iKettle. Proceeds from the kettles benefit the organization’s community and family services, which supplies 5,000 Ottawa families with food vouchers, emergency clothing and transportation, as well as funds to pay hydro and gas bills that have fallen in arrears through the Winter Warmth program.

Maidment recalls a time when he volunteered.

“People come up and thank you,” he said. “And they tell you about a time the Salvation Army helped them.”


Metro Ottawa's Tracey Tong is an award-winning reporter. A Burlington native, Tong's career has taken her all over Ontario. Her Cityscapes column appears every Wednesday.