NORTH KINGSTOWN – Today, let us give thanks for the Salvation Army, particularly the work done by Ron and Brenda Grundy, members of First Baptist Church in Wickford, who are celebrating their 11th year as coordinators of the local kettle drive.
Ron is a retired draftsman/stone engineer in building and Brenda teaches kindergarten in North Providence, a school system for which she previously taught special education.
The former North Kingstown residents moved to Johnson six years ago when Brenda’s father died and she needed to take care of his property. Still, they return here each holiday season to organize the kettle drive.
They schedule civic groups, schools, churches and volunteeers to ring bells and collect donations; all the money received stays here to meet local needs.
“It’s a lot of work,” Brenda admits, “but the help we get is awesome.”
Among the programs benefitting from the kettle campaign is the back-to-school shoe plan in which kids receive vouchers to exchange for new shoes. Another is special camperships including one given last year to send a girl on a retreat for youngsters with diabetes.
“There’s no end to the emergencies you’re dealing with all the time,” says Brenda. Earmarking the funds gathered locally to fulfill needs in the community is unique, she adds. “They don’t have anything like this anywhere else in the state.”
Besides the usual, tried-and-true folks manning the kettles, this year the Grundys are hoping to attract younger people and, perhaps, families who want to teach their children about altruism.
This year kettles will be set up Dec. 1-2 during Wickford’s Festival of Lights, and on three Saturdays – Dec. 3, 10 and 17 – at four locations: Dave’s Market on Tower Hill Road, Stop & Shop on Frenchtown Road, Super Stop & Shop and Wal-mart, both on Ten Rod Road.
The Grundys, who got involved with the kettle drive when they were approached to replace someone who had too many other charitable reponsibilities, have become hooked.
“We love doing it,” says Brenda. “Everybody on the committee likes what they do.”
And there are the special memories.
Last year at Super Stop & Shop, Ron says, “a Volkswagen pulled up, called a volunteer over to the car and gave a check for $100. Another time, there was a $100 bill in the kettle at Wal-mart. I was closing down the kettle at Shop & Shop and this man came out and started talking about the Salvation Army’s good works. He gave us a $20 bill and said, ‘You know what?’ and reached in for another $20.”
It is, Brenda explains, “the generosity of the people” that brings the holidays to life for her. “Some you wouldn’t think would have the ability to give but they do. Everyone’s budget is being cut. One year we thought we’d get nothing but we got as much as the year before. People tend to respond even in hard times.”
On average, the local kettle campaign earns $7,000; community programs are also aided by a trust fund.
The Grundys have experienced two blizzards during their years heading the campaign. “We couldn’t go out at all,” Brenda says. “We didn’t want people standing out in the freezing cold and snow. The churches took up special collections” and civic groups pitched in.
Although some of the volunteers were disappointed, Ron notes, “We didn’t think it would be appropriate for people to stand at the kettles in ski masks.”
Brenda feels “it’s almost a privilege” to participate in the Salvation Army’s time-honored red kettle campaign.
“I hope we have a good response this season. It’s needed more than ever.”
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for SRIN and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .