“People ask me what I get out of volunteering at The Salvation Army kettles every Christmas,” says Emma MacDonald of Windsor, Ont. “I reply that I get a sense of pride, joy and happiness. I feel blessed that I am in a position where I can give my time.”
Emma’s answer is thoughtful and reasoned, all the more so because she is a nine-year-old who has been volunteering her services on the kettles for more than half her life.
Thanks to the efforts of Emma and tens of thousands of volunteers like her, The Salvation Army helps bring hope to almost two million people in Canada and Bermuda, at Christmastime and throughout the year.
The MacDonalds have been attending The Salvation Army’s South Windsor church for eight years. “My husband is an official member of The Salvation Army,” Emma’s mother, Renee, a preschool teacher, says, “and I know how much good the organization does, but they can’t do it alone.”
One day while Renee and then-three-year-old Emma were out running errands, Emma saw a young girl standing with her parent at a Salvation Army kettle.
“Mom, can I do that next year?” Emma asked Renee. “And can I ring a bell, too?”
“Of course, you can ring a bell,” Renee replied.
So the following year, Renee started volunteering on the kettles, and she would bring little Emma along. Emma always enjoyed these outings (“When I would ring my jingle bells, people would give me money and I thought that was cool!”), but it wasn’t until she was six that she understood what exactly she was doing.
Renee once asked Emma, “Do you know why we have kettles and why we are doing this at Christmas?”
“It’s to help families that don’t have much at Christmastime,” Emma answered.
“I know how lucky I am to have my parents and a roof over my head,” she says, “and I realized that I was helping collect money that would be used to help the less fortunate.”
“Volunteering on the kettles lets me meet new people every year but it’s also fun to see the same people donate year after year,” smiles Emma. She often sings Christmas carols, to the delight of passersby. When Renee and Emma are situated between two drafty sliding doors at the local supermarket, many will offer to purchase a cup of hot chocolate for the nine-year-old.
One day when Emma was at the kettle, a woman came along after having purchased her groceries. She stopped and put some money in the kettle, and Emma said, “Thank you and have a merry Christmas.”
The woman paused and started chatting with the girl.
“You are doing a generous deed,” she told Emma, who thanked her for her kind words. The woman brought her groceries to her car, then returned to the grocery store and brought out a big bag of popcorn, which she proceeded to give to a delighted Emma.
“I want to give this to you because you are a special little girl. You’re helping others and you are doing a great job,” she told her.
Emma thanked her again and gave her a hug.
The woman started to leave, but turned and asked Emma if she could pray with her. They held hands and prayed that The Salvation Army would reach their kettle goals for the city that year.
The woman then left. Emma never saw her again but the incident has always stayed in her heart.
Like her father, Murray, who works in the building maintenance department of the Great Essex County District School Board, Emma is an official member of The Salvation Army—young members such as she are called junior soldiers by the organization.
“Every night, Emma prays for her family and friends,” Renee says. “She’s always there when a friend or a family member needs a hug or a shoulder to cry on. Just a few weeks ago, a friend at church told her that her grandmother wasn’t feeling well, and Emma asked if she could pray with her for her grandmother to feel better.”
As she gets older, Emma is even more determined to do her bit every Christmas for The Salvation Army.
“I don’t mind giving up my time to volunteer on the kettles because I know it is for a good cause,” she says. “And I know I’m helping The Salvation Army reach their goal. The money I help collect goes to feed and clothe people not just at Christmas but throughout the year, which is good because nobody in our city should go hungry.
“I hope my example will encourage others to volunteer their time,” she says. “It doesn’t matter how old or how young you are, or how much time you give. It all makes a difference.”