Salvation Army to host ‘Red Kettle Kickoff’ at Fishback Stadium Nov. 27

Football themed event will feature local players, officials; help promote nonprofit’s holiday fundraiser

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Contributed photo courtesy Camas-Washougal Salvation Army Salvation Army of Camas-Washougal volunteer Mychele Crase rings a bell in front of the Safeway store in Washougal in December 2022

Camas-Washougal Salvation Army (CWSA) employees and board members considered a wide variety of options for a new community event to raise awareness for their annual holiday fundraising campaign, but they couldn’t ignore the fact that football was a natural fit.

“One of our advisory board members said, ‘Well, it is football season, and it is a ‘kickoff’ (event), so why don’t we get the (local high school) football teams involved?’” CWSA envoy Samantha Wheeler said. “The idea is to make our ‘kettle kickoff’ a literal kickoff.”

The CWSA’s first “Red Kettle Kickoff” event, to be held at 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 27, at Fishback Stadium at Washougal High School, will feature two teams — consisting of football players and staff members from Camas and Washougal high schools, as well as Camas City Councilman Don Chaney and Washougal Mayor David Stuebe — competing against each other to pass or kick the most footballs into a red kettle, with a trophy going to the winning squad.

“We have a giant red kettle, and it’s going to be at the 50-yard line, and (the competitors) are going to be 30 yards away, seeing who can get the most footballs into the kettle,” Wheeler said. “Each person will be given three tries, and they can either throw the football or kick it, but at least one member of each team has to kick it. They each get three tries to get a ball into the giant kettle, and they (receive) various points. After everybody goes, we calculate the points and whoever gets the most points wins the perpetual trophy.”

The event will be free of charge, but attendees can donate money or canned food at one of several “kettle stands” to be featured at the event.

The Red Kettle Kickoff also will include carnival-style, family friendly games with football-themed prizes.

“Weather permitting, we’ll have some field games, like cornhole and beanbags,” Wheeler said. “We’ll have giant inflatable footballs (people) can kick around. We’ll have a bunch of giveaways that are football-themed, like little fidget spinners and football keychains and football stress balls. We’ll be giving away chocolate bars that have a wrap on them with our registered ‘ring information,’ which is how (people can) go about volunteering to ‘ring the bell’ for us. And after the competition, anybody else who wants to try to throw the football in the kettle can try and do that.”

The event is “something new that we will build into an annual community event,” according to Jessica Wheeler, CWSA’s financial director and volunteer coordinator.

“I guess we’ll see how it goes this year to find out if it generates enough interest or not,” Samantha Wheeler said. “The whole idea behind it is obviously to kick off the (campaign) in a fun way, but (also) to bring awareness to what the red kettles are, what we’re doing with the money, and where it’s going, and get people in the giving spirit of the holidays.”

The CWSA also plans to use the event to notify residents about its intentions to win a statewide competition that awards financial prizes to Salvation Army branches that increase the highest amount of volunteer hours from the previous year.

“This is our first initial part of that big ‘try,’ and we’re really pushing it this year. We’re going for it,” Samantha Wheeler said. “Last year, we came in second (place in the state competition) and won $5,000, but this year, we’re going big. We’re going for first place. (We want to) bring awareness to our campaign and bring awareness to the competition that we’re entering, because I think if our community members knew that we’re trying to increase our volunteer hours in order to win more money to put back into our community, they would be more willing to help and step forward.”

he Salvation Army Northwest Divisional Command launched the volunteer competition in 2021, with first-, second- and third-place awards of $10,000, $5,000 and $2,500, respectively.

The Washougal branch finished fourth in 2021, then moved up to second place in 2022, racking up 2,224 volunteer hours for an increase of 124% from the previous year, to receive $5,000 that it used to help local residents afford rent and utility payments.

“(We can finish first because of our) community,” Samantha Wheeler said. “The more we get the word out there that we are looking for volunteers, the more we get the word out there that we are in this competition to win money to pour back into our communities, the more people are stepping forward. I’m confident that if the community finds out that this competition is out there and that they have an opportunity to participate in it and help us win it, we will. That’s what we have as our advantage — the people of this community. They’re our secret weapon.”

The CWSA also hopes to take advantage of a new online platform that allows individuals and groups to schedule volunteer bell-ringing shifts in their local communities. is a “user-friendly website that allows volunteers to find available volunteer shifts at the local store location of their choice and schedule those shifts by following the prompts on the website,” according to a news release.

“We are hopeful that our new online signup platform will energize volunteers like never before and give us the push that we need to take the big prize this year,” Samantha Wheeler said. “The communities of Camas and Washougal really care about their neighbors in need and always come through for us in big ways.”

In the past 12 months, the Washougal Salvation Army has given out 9,902 meals, 4,030 food boxes and 1,012 items of clothing, and provided emergency rent assistance to 42 families, emergency utilities assistance to 32 families, 1,400 hot showers to people experiencing homelessness, and 28 backpacks, filled with school supplies, to local students.

“We finished (the year) strong,” Samantha Wheeler said. “We ended up obviously helping more people this year than we have in years past. We’re seeing a lot more people participating in our community center, coming out for the free classes, the chair yoga, the craft (sessions), the community choir, and all those things, so we’re excited about that. We’ve got this beautiful building here, and we want to share it with the community, so we’re happy about that.”

The local Salvation Army also has given a great deal of food to residents in need in 2023, Samantha Wheeler added.

“We just keep thinking, ‘Well, it’s probably going to slow down,’ but it doesn’t,” she said. “It’s been a really consistent thing with giving food out left and right and just trying to keep our pantry full.”

For more information about local “bell-ringing” volunteer shifts, call Jessica Wheeler at 360-921-5886.