By Brian E. Fraley for   Published Dec 13, 2005 at 5:18 AM

The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, its advertisers or editorial staff.

As national retail giants like Target and local shopping centers like Wauwatosa's Mayfair Mall continue to thumb their noses at the Salvation Army bell ringers, we should recognize just how important this charitable organization has been, particularly to the Milwaukee area.

While they are famous for the red kettles of Christmas, the Salvation Army has long served the Milwaukee area and is present in our community every day of the year.

William Booth founded the Salvation Army in 1865. There, he and his wife Catherine recruited like-minded souls to wage war against the sin, poverty and hunger that was rampant in London at the time. The Salvation Army first came to the United States in 1880 and established a mission here in Milwaukee less than a decade later. In 1889 the group opened its first operations on West Water Street and it's been making a positive impact on our community ever since.

The first red kettle drive was launched in 1893 to raise funds to provide Christmas dinners for the destitute. Throughout the depression Salvation Army soup kitchens fed this city's hungry. In 1935 the Salvation Army began a Christmas toy distribution to the area's needy children.

In 1979 the group purchased the Masterpiece Motor Lodge at 1730 N. 7th St. from the city for $1. The facility is used to provide emergency housing and meals for homeless individuals and families. In fact, the Salvation Army has been providing assistance and hope to greater Milwaukee's poor for generations, through the operation of food pantries and rehabilitation centers, and by offering transitional housing and countless other opportunities for the less fortunate.

With all the good done by Salvation Army volunteers, you would think commercial interests would embrace the bell ringers and their little red kettles. However, it is becoming more and more common for retailers to ban the kettles as a 'courtesy' to their patrons.

Bah, humbug!

The Salvation Army is facing daunting times. It's been dealt a vicious one-two punch. First, Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma depleted its resources. Then, the actions of heartless, short-sighted business owners have resulted in a greatly reduced number of kettles in the area.

Yet, the Salvation Army has set a $2.75 million Christmas fund-raising goal for this year so that it may provide assistance for over 100,000 individuals this winter and in order to fund many of the Army's year-round efforts to serve Milwaukee's low-income citizens

And while I am tempted to toss a lump of coal toward Target, Mayfair and other retailing Scrooges who won't grant the bell ringers the chance stand out in sub-freezing temperatures collecting coins for the poor, I have another idea.

In the spirit of the Christmas season, you can still help the Salvation Army, even if you haven't the opportunity to pass a red kettle while doing your shopping. Head to and drop some coins into the online kettle and help support an organization with deep roots in the Milwaukee community.

Merry Christmas, one and all.

Brian Fraley is the president of The Markesan Group, LLC, a national business and political consulting firm located in downtown Milwaukee.

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