Camas-Washougal Salvation Army volunteers help organization win 2nd place in ‘Red Kettle’ competition

Salvation Army envoy says $5K prize money will 'help a lot of people pay their utility bill or put food on their table or stay in their house for another month'

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Salvation Army of Camas-Washougal volunteers Richard Sweet (left) and Cindy Schroeder (right) ring bells in front of the Bi-Mart store in Washougal in December 2022.

East Clark County volunteers rang Salvation Army bells at a record pace during the 2022 holiday season.

The Salvation Army of Camas-Washougal took second place in a competition that challenged more than 30 churches and service centers in the Pacific Northwest to increase their Red Kettle Campaign volunteer hours over 2021’s statistics.

The Salvation Army Northwest Division coordinated the competition and awarded the Camas-Washougal organization a $5,000 prize for its runner-up finish.

“With $5,000, we can help a lot of people pay their utility bill or put food on their table or stay in their house for another month,” said Camas-Washougal Salvation Army envoy Samantha Wheeler.

Camas-Washougal red kettle bell-ringers racked up 2,224 hours from late November 2022, through the end of December 2022 — a 124% increase over the 992 hours they recorded during the 2021 holiday season.

“We really, really pushed it this year,” Wheeler said. “It’s really an important challenge. When we told the schools and businesses and members of the community about the challenge and that we could win some money to put back into our community, they stepped up. Clearly, the numbers show that they stepped up.”

Those numbers likely would have been even higher in 2022, if the Salvation Army of Camas-Washougal hadn’t been forced to cancel its bell-ringing efforts on several key “bell-ringing” days — including the two days before Christmas — due to inclement winter weather.

“Taking a few days off our kettle season and still being able to increase that much over last year is really impressive,” Wheeler said. “Those two days (before Christmas 2022) probably equal a whole week’s worth of income in a normal year, so it really impacted us.”

Wheeler added that the community still came through despite the missing winter-weather days: “We thought it would be a hit, but our community is so good.”

Volunteers rang bells at six locations throughout East Clark County, including Safeway stores in Camas and Washougal, the Bi-Mart store in Washougal, the Camas Post Office, and QFC and Walmart stores on 192nd Avenue in Vancouver.

“We had at least 146 individuals who contributed to our volunteer hours,” said Jessica Wheeler, the Salvation Army of Camas-Washougal’s corps assistant and finance director. “Some were part of a larger community group, while others were simply community minded individuals who volunteered on their own or with a family member.”

In addition to the local Salvation Army, participating organizations included the Camas Lions Club, the Washougal Lions Club, the Washougal Kiwanis, the Rotary Club of Camas-Washougal, Girl Scout Troop 45703, the Washougal Adult Transition Program, the city of Washougal, the Washougal River Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and Panther RV Products.

“There were some people who rang for about 60 hours in that one-month period of time,” Samantha Wheeler said. “That’s a lot of time to be standing out in the cold. It’s not the most entertaining kind of volunteer work, either — you’re just standing and ringing a bell. To put in 60 hours is quite a feat.”

The Salvation Army of Camas-Washougal raised more than $69,000 during the 2022 holiday season, with “every penny (going) back into our community,” according to Samantha Wheeler.

“I think one of the beautiful things about small communities is that they tend to care about each other in a greater capacity than larger communities do,” she said. “(This result) says exactly what I knew about this community. I knew we could probably win this competition because I know that this community cares. When the pandemic hit, we saw them support (us) in a way that we never had before. When they know that there’s a need, and that there’s a chance that they can help, they step up to the plate every time.”

That kind of support is why she is so optimistic about finishing even higher in next year’s competition.

If the local organization can win first place in 2023, the group would receive $10,000 to help Camas-Washougal families and individuals in need.

Samantha Wheeler said she’s hopeful the group can finish in the top spot.

“We didn’t miss out on first place by much, so it’s definitely possible for us to take first place next year,” she said.

The Salvation Army’s annual Red Kettle Campaign assists more than 25 million people in the United States by providing funds for social services such as food, shelter, disaster assistance and addiction recovery programs. To learn more about the Salvation Army of Camas-Washougal, visit