You hear the bell ringing and you look and see The Salvation Army’s famous “red kettle” and you know it’s getting close to Christmas.  First started in 1891 in San Francisco, the “Red Kettle Christmas Campaign” is The Salvation Army’s biggest and most visible fundraising program to help the needy and hungry in the name of Christ at Christmas time and throughout the year.  It’s also a great way for individuals and groups to volunteer and get involved to spread the Christmas spirit.

Another familiar Salvation Army program is its “Angel Tree Program,” which specifically provides clothes and toys for children at Christmas.  Other programs and services throughout the year include its Transitional Housing Program, help to the homeless, its Family Stores, Adult Rehabilitation Centers, and Camp Happy Land for disadvantaged youth. They’ve also been “unsung heroes” on the front lines of countless disasters over the years.  When the Colorado floods occurred last year, it was The Salvation Army on the ground providing over 10,000 meals and establishing short- and long-term evacuation shelters.

Speaking of disaster response, last month, the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee held a field hearing at Clemson University focused on Emergency Response and Preparedness. The hearing, which was chaired by U.S. Congressman Jeff Duncan (R-SC), revealed that The Salvation Army has emergency response teams in every zip code of the United States. No other organization can even come close.

When the “storms of life” come and someone has hit rock bottom and feels like they have no hope, The Salvation Army is there.  And it’s not just the person in need’s physical health they care about.  The Salvation Army cares about their spiritual health, too.  Chapel services are associated with the various programs to provide an opportunity for people of any faith to understand that God is both loving and forgiving.

The actual amount of real help provided to Americans in need by The Salvation Army is staggering.  In fact, The Salvation Army assists more than 33 million Americans throughout the year and over 6 million of those during the Christmas season alone.  To get this done, The Salvation Army spends well over $3BN every year helping people, with over 82 cents of every dollar spent going to program services.  The late Peter Drucker was right when he called The Salvation Army in a Forbes Magazine article, “by far, the most effective organization in the United States.”

The Salvation Army began in London in 1865 when Methodist minister William Booth decided to take his Christian message to the streets in order to reach the poor and hungry, prostitutes, alcoholics, and criminals.  Next came soup kitchens and the expansion of The Salvation Army into other countries.  His approach was simple, yet very effective—apply the Christian Gospel to the problems of the world.

What’s particularly heartwarming is to see how many people who’ve been helped by The Salvation Army over the years actually return to help The Salvation Army in its mission once they’re back on their feet.  Several years ago, while bell ringing with my kids outside of Washington, DC, a mom with two children came up to the “red kettle” and made a donation.  She then looked at me and said, “A couple of years ago, I lost my job and we didn’t have heat and it was winter.  The Salvation Army helped me and my children.  I’m glad that I can now help somebody else.”

In this day and age, there are many who just talk the talk.  It’s truly uplifting to see an organization like The Salvation Army that actually walks the walk and helps show the world that the Light that first shone in Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago is just as bright today as it was then.      

Van D. Hipp, Jr. is the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Army.  He is the author of the newly released book, "The New Terrorism:  How to Fight It and Defeat It."  All of the author's proceeds go to the National Guard Educational Foundation to fund scholarships for children of fallen Guardsmen.  www.thenewterrorism.com   Follow him on  Twitter @VanHipp