Salvation Army Census Psychology

salvation army

I’m not Captain McFee, but I sure am happy to carry on his tradition.

In 1891, Salvation Army Captain Joseph McFee was distraught because so many poor people in San Francisco were going hungry. He resolved to to feed 1,000 hungry people on Christmas day, but he needed to find the funds. He remembered his days as a sailor in England and how at Stage Landing there was a large, iron kettle called “Simpson’s Pot” where people would put in coins to help the poor. The captain put a kettle out the next day with a sign that read “Keep the Pot Boiling” and  he soon collected enough money to reach his goal of providing Christmas dinner. His idea spread and now years later we find red  Salvation Army kettles in front of stores everywhere holding money to assist people in their local communities who are struggling to find enough money for food, prescriptions, and rent. Wow. So simple, but so powerful.

Every year in December I take one or two afternoons from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., step away from my office, and stand in front of my local grocery store by the infamous red kettle.  I find it to be an amazing way to press the pause button on my crazy schedule. It gives me a chance to interact with people and find the joy of the season in the eyes of each person I greet.

Two hours standing in the same spot gives you a lot of time to think, and if you are like me, it also gives you a lot of time to categorize everything you see.  Yes, I am a Type A. The list maker.  A “J” on the Myers Briggs test. That strange kid who lined up her stuffed animal collection in taxonomic order.

So, while ringing the bell this year, I sorted. And I decided there are really eight kinds of Salvation Army kettle givers. Here is my assessment:

  1. Loose Changers: These are the people whom you make eye contact with when they are crossing the street and they quickly start digging in their pockets. They drop their change in the bucket. Eye contact does amazing things. Cool, thanks!
  2. Crisp Ones: These are folks, usually over 65, who purposely go to the bank and get crisp dollar bills to put in every Salvation Army bucket they visit during the season. Wow. Thank you planners!
  3. Sweet Toothers: These are the opportunistic children who tug on their parents’ coats and ask to put money in the bucket (knowing full well there are candy canes in my red apron for them). Fun! Thanks!
  4. Giving Teachers: This type of giver is usually female with one kid sitting in front of her cart and the other in tow. She digs through her purse while holding onto the cart with one foot. Patiently she waits as her children put each coin in the bucket one by one. A candy cane is given, much to her surprise (and occasionally chagrin). She instructs, “Tell her thank you.” No, thank you!
  5. Catch Ya Laters: These are the folks who greet you with a smile and say, “I’ll see you on my way out.” At first you think it is just a sneaky avoidance move. But it is not. They actually return. Way to go! Thanks!
  6. Justifiers: These people can’t stand it. They have to come up and talk to you and tell you why they aren’t putting anything in the kettle. “I gave all my change to the guy yesterday.” Or, “I rang the bell here last week.” Or, “I will get some cash and put some in tomorrow.” Thanks for caring and stopping to chat!
  7. Big Buck Inspirations: These people are surprisingly all ages and genders and you never know when one will show up. But when they do, you marvel. They reach in their pockets or open their wallets and pull out large bills: 10s, 20s…I’ve even seen Ben Franklin. Thanks for trusting!
  8. Grateful Receivers: Last but not least, these are some of my favorite givers. These are people who have received help from the Salvation Army before. They give back what they can and tell me their stories. THANK YOU!

One thing I’ve noticed about all the types of givers is that they return the thanks. They are grateful for the time you spend outside ringing the bell, which makes me realize there is one final type of giver I’ve forgotten–Bell Ringers. I guess if we didn’t stand by Captain McFee’s kettle then there wouldn’t be a place to put any money. It takes all kinds of givers.  Each one special. And I wouldn’t miss this part of Christmas for anything!


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