Cold weather seems to warm hearts when it comes to the local Salvation Army’s annual Red Kettle Campaign.

So Capt. Alan Sladek hopes for a crisp chill in the air by Nov. 12 when the local social service agency kicks off the 2016 seasonal kettle campaign at a projected 32 sites in Columbus. However, many more volunteer ringers are needed.

The organization’s campaign goal for this year is to raise $115,000 by Dec. 24, Sladek said.

Historical statistics show that the heaviest days of giving since 2010 — when he and his wife, Capt. Jodi Sladek, began spearheading the fund drive — surface when the temperatures dip into the 40s or below, and especially if there is snow.

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“The last two years have been gorgeous early on (in the campaign),” Alan Sladek said. “And it has not been very cold.”

That has meant substantially lower donations, since the Sladeks say people don’t think of Christmas amid warmer days.

This year marks the earliest kickoff date since the Sladeks assumed leadership of the citadel. They both agree that the campaign that funds the outreach’s food pantry, summer camps, utility bill assistance program and much more needs all the time possible to reach its goal.

Last year, the campaign surpassed its $110,000 goal to hit $111,000 on the last day of the drive.

“God always manages to come through,” Alan Sladek said.

Columbus resident Jim Hutson said he and his wife Mary Hutson first agreed to volunteer weekly at the kettles in 2012 when their son, Robert Hutson, was deployed overseas. They wanted to channel their concern toward concern for others.

They even sang while they rang the bell, since Jim Hutson is well known to southern gospel music fans as a vocalist with the nationally touring Woodsmen Quartet.

“We just fell in love with it,” Jim Hutson said. “There were so many people saying thank you.”

Some listened nearby in a parking lot with their car windows down. Others brought them hot coffee on cold days.

So now the couple has progressed to bringing the granddaughters along for the volunteer sessions.

“Now, when I walk into some local businesses, I find out that that’s how people know me — from the ringing,” Jim Hutson said.

Alan Sladek said 88 percent of the donations go directly to programs that help the poor and struggling.

Red Kettle history

In 1891, Salvation Army Capt. Joseph McFee was distraught because so many poor individuals in San Francisco were going hungry. During the holiday season, he resolved to provide a free Christmas dinner for the destitute and poverty-stricken. He only had one major hurdle to overcome — funding the project.

He wondered where he would get the money. He lay awake nights, worrying, thinking, praying about how he could find the funds to fulfill his commitment of feeding 1,000 of the city’s poorest individuals on Christmas Day. As he pondered the issue, his thoughts drifted back to his sailor days in Liverpool, England. He remembered how at Stage Landing, where the boats came in, there was a large, iron kettle called “Simpson’s Pot” into which passers-by tossed a coin or two to help the poor.

The next day, McFee placed a similar pot at the Oakland Ferry Landing at the foot of Market Street. Beside the pot, he placed a sign that read, “Keep the Pot Boiling.” He soon had the money to see that the needy people were properly fed at Christmas.

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You can ring in the season

You can help the Salvation Army by volunteering to ring a bell at one of 32 projected locations throughout the Columbus area, includes outlying areas such as the Edinburgh Premium Outlets, beginning Nov. 12.

Organizers are asking volunteers to consider a shift of a minimum of two hours.

People can sign up for shifts at

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at or 812-379-5672.