Small change reaps big rewards in Salvation Army’s red kettles

Hundred dollar bills. A check for $500. It doesn’t happen often, but local Salvation Army bell ringers do find Christmas surprises in red kettles.

In Boston, a widow anonymously put a diamond ring and gold wedding band into a Salvation Army kettle. According to an Associated Press story published Monday, her note asked that the rings be sold to buy toys for poor children. So another generous widow recently paid $21,000 — more than 10 times the rings’ worth — to fulfill the request.

Asked if she had ever seen an offering so extravagant, a diamond in a red kettle, Marysville Salvation Army ministry director Michelle Rutherford said, “I wish — I’ve been looking for one.”

Someone did just slip a $500 check into a kettle at a supermarket north of Marysville, she said Wednesday. “That’s unusual for us,” Rutherford said.

She and her husband, ministry director Gene Rutherford, are leaders at a new Salvation Army Marysville/Tulalip Outpost. The facility opened in October as a Christian church and services office. It’s now separate from the Salvation Army Everett Corps Community Center. Both are part of the Salvation Army Northwest Division.

Along with its 5:30 p.m. Saturday church services, the charity in Marysville serves free dinners at 5 p.m. Wednesdays and breakfasts from 9:30-11:30 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

As many as 50 people attend the dinners, said Rutherford, who is both a Salvation Army employee and volunteer bell ringer. On Friday, she’ll join other bell ringers Christmas caroling outside the Marysville Fred Meyer store.

Where does all that kettle money go?

“It all stays here,” said Salvation Army Lt. Dawn Apaun, who runs the charity’s Everett center with her husband, Maj. Jonathan Apaun.

The Everett center has 36 kettle locations, east to Monroe and south to Lynnwood. Along with meal programs, the Everett site has a church, a food bank, the city’s only cold weather shelter — 575 people have slept there so far this season — and other social services. It offers housing help and rental assistance. On Friday, the center will provide Christmas toys to 381 needy families who signed up for holiday help.

Money raised through the Maryville Salvation Army stays in Marysville, Tulalip or communities to the north, Rutherford said. Some bell ringers are volunteers, but many are hired.

“It’s an interesting experience, being a bell ringer,” Dawn Apaun said. “You get a lot of World War II stories from vets. Some people are really grumpy. They ignore you.” But Apaun said one young woman recently put $5 in a kettle and started crying. The donor told Apaun she was once helped by the Salvation Army when she was homeless.

The kettle tradition started in 1891 in San Francisco. With people putting coins in a big kettle, a Salvation Army captain found a way to buy Christmas dinners for the city’s destitute. Today, Apaun said, “this is our biggest fund-raising campaign.” The Everett Salvation Army hopes to raise $100,000 in its kettles this year.

We walk past bell ringers all through these hectic weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Sometimes I hear those jingling bells and drop a dollar or two in a kettle. I also have avoided bell ringers, or offered sheepish apologies.

Last Saturday, while putting stamps on letters at the downtown Everett post office, I watched gregarious bell ringer Karl Wright do his job. He greeted everyone, opened the heavy door for people carrying packages, and called out, “Merry Christmas.”

“This is my 25th year. I did my first 10 years at the Lynnwood post office,” Wright, 58, said Thursday.

In his quarter-century as a seasonal bell ringer, he hasn’t seen any diamond rings, either. “I did get a couple $100 bills a few years ago,” said Wright, who also has a job at Everett’s ScuttleButt Brewing Co. “My arm gets tired opening that door, but after all these years I’m beginning to realize it makes people’s day.”

Wright also said a friend told him, “You done messed up and became a seasonal icon.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460;

Bells and carols

Salvation Army Marysville/Tulalip Outpost is at 7227 44th Ave. NE, Marysville. 360-926-2228.

Salvation Army Everett Corps Community Center is at 2525 Rucker Ave., Everett. 425-259-8129.

Salvation Army bell ringers will sing carols 4-8 p.m. Friday outside Marysville Fred Meyer, 9925 State Ave.

Salvation Army Northwest Division information:

Online Red Kettle information:

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