As everyone prepares for the upcoming holidays, rest assured, after being sidelined for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Red Kettles and bells of The Salvation Army NJ Division will be out and about in full force.

Therefore, they desperately need volunteers to help man the kettles and ring the bells.

The Red Kettle Campaign is the oldest annual charitable fundraiser of its kind in the U.S., says Lieutenant Alan Porchetti, Corp officer of the Trenton Citadel.

When did the Red Kettle Campaign start?

The Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign was started in 1891 by Army Captain, Joseph McFee in San Francisco. He opened a soup kitchen with a promise to help feed thousands of underprivileged people near Fisherman’s Wharf.

McFee put a giant cast iron pot outside the door of the soup kitchen so people could toss their change into it as they passed by. The money would be used to keep feeding the people.

Since people started donating to the Salvation Army through a cast iron pot, to this day, that is why a red kettle is used to be placed outside of supermarkets and big box store chains.

What is the Red Kettle Campaign?

The Red Kettle is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the Salvation Army, Porchetti said. Whenever you see a bell ringer outside of a store, they are asking for the change remaining from your grocery shopping visit. Those donations go directly to local communities, he said.

Porchetti said it gives him great joy to see families, especially children take the time out of their busy holiday schedules to throw some change or a couple of bucks into the kettles.

Where and when will NJ see the red kettles?

Starting Black Friday, Nov. 25, the red kettles will be out and about. However, the official kickoff to the red kettle season is Tuesday, Nov. 29, better known as “Giving Tuesday,” Porchetti said.

Red kettles and bell ringers will be outside of grocery stores and big box chain retailers such as ShopRite, Walmart, JC Penney, Hobby Lobby, and much more.

In Trenton alone, there will be at least 16 locations where red kettles and bell ringers can be found, he added.

What is new this year?

The counter kettle is new this year. Besides the bell ringers outside the stores with the red kettle, Porchetti said there will be counter kettles. This is a small bucket next to registers in various stores across the state. “Feel free to throw your change in there as well,” he said.

What happens if you don’t have cash?

No worries. Many people don’t carry cash on them as they did in years past. The Salvation Army recognizes that and has grown with the times.

In many red kettle locations, Porchetti said people may see bar codes so they can donate by scanning the QR codes on their phones. The Salvation Army has had this feature for a few years now but he said he sees this becoming a more popular way of donating money.

“Either scan the code or use your Venmo, Apple Pay, or Google Pay. We’re getting a lot of donations this way, as well,” Porchetti said.

Where does the collected money go?

All the money collected from the Red Kettle Campaign goes directly to local communities, Porchetti said. For example, in Trenton, the money goes to several food pantries, or to help with utility and rental assistance.

“We have a food truck that goes out to the community every Friday and we serve an average of 300 meals to Mercer County. Whatever dollar or penny you put into the bucket will go directly back to the community. It will not sit in a bank account. It will not stay for operating purposes. It will go back directly to the community,” Porchetti said.

The donated money has also been used to help fund a music program that the Salvation Army and the city of Trenton started for children two years ago during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. When schools were closed, the program managed to stay open and allow children to take advantage of a wonderful opportunity, he said.

“As far as this last quarter, I believe we had 76 students come and take advantage of our music school,” Porchetti said.

They teach anything from guitars, bass, piano, drums, and dance. The Salvation Army is the biggest music provider after the public schools, he added.

The Salvation Army is known for its brass band, Porchetti proudly said. They enjoy teaching kids to play brass instruments and music theory. However, the organization recognized that not everyone wants to be a brass player. That’s why they offer guitar, piano, and several other instruments.

“We love to invest in our children and our families,” he said.

How can I volunteer to become a Red Kettle bell ringer?

The Salvation Army is struggling. They are desperate for volunteers, Porchetti said. They are still trying to recover from the pandemic. This year, for some reason, the number of volunteers is way down, he said.

This is primarily a volunteer-based organization, so one can imagine how many volunteers are needed. The monetary donations are great, and so are the toy donations, he said. But volunteer hours are critical too.

Anyone interested in volunteering this season as a Red Kettle bell ringer can sign up at

Jen Ursillo is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at

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