Hand in Hand for the Holidays The Salvation Army and First Responders


There are many ways that The Salvation Army helps in the prevention of homelessness, feeding the hungry and helping others who are struggling in our community during the holidays. And, there are many dedicated and hardworking volunteers who help fill a Genesee County child’s heart with delight through the season.

Kirk Wilkinson, Assistant Fire Chief with the Burton Fire Department where he has been a public servant for 21 years, is one of those volunteers. According to Wilkinson, several area fire departments and various service organizations partner with The Salvation Army, volunteering their time, ringing a Red Kettle bell, holiday shopping with children, or filling a fire truck with donated toys. “The police departments and Mott Community College officers are also very involved,” Wilkinson reports.

There’s also a little competition among the fire departments to raise the most funds. The Burton Fire Department promotes “Fill the Truck with Toys,” with the goal of filling a fire truck to the brim with brand new toys. From the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve, many firefighters volunteer their time during the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign at various Genesee County locations. As the Burton Fire Department’s director of public safety, Wilkinson spends his time e-mailing the staff, organizing the volunteers and getting them going in the right direction. “I’m a very small component when it comes to The Salvation Army,” he says. “Many people give a lot of time and deserve much more credit. It’s a huge team effort – we are just a small cog in the wheel.” Burton Fire Department is well known for its volunteer efforts. Former fire chief, Doug Halstead who passed away in 2014, was big on volunteering. Wilkinson credits Ken Gould and Ken Baker at the Department for making sure its commitment to volunteering continues.


The Burton Fire Department’s biggest Red Kettle day is Black Friday, the first official day of the campaign. An average of eight to 12 people participate, each volunteering at least a dozen times between Black Friday and Christmas Eve. “Our goal is to have two people at each kettle, at various locations,” Wilkinson says. “A lot of police departments help, too, and it’s definitely a friendly competition between the fire and the police departments. We have a traveling trophy that the winner keeps for the whole year and returns the following year. Last year, Burton cleaned house on the awards.”

Bell-ringing is just one Salvation Army volunteer option. “We also try to get donations of gloves, scarves, coats and toys. We distribute fliers requesting toy donations and bring out the squad truck to fill,” Wilkinson reports. “The real surprise is seeing someone come out with a shopping cart full of toys and say to us, ‘this is for you guys.’” He also says it is surprising how frequently that happens. “People shopping at the Fenton Walmart are known for their generosity,” Wilkinson shares. “That’s where you get the full carts of toys. All of the community Walmarts have been great partners and very supportive.” During the Salvation Army’s Toy Shop Distribution, the gymnasium is entirely filled with toys. 

Volunteering is important to Wilkinson. “It’s important, because if nobody did it, we would be much worse off as a community, as a whole. Not everyone has the means to provide for themselves. Volunteering is what keeps the community together.”


Tracey Austin could be called a mega volunteer. She donates her time to the City of Flint Police Department, about 40 hours a week as a Reserve Officer and Blue Badge volunteer. “I answer phones at the Detective Bureau and the patrol desk,” she says. During the holidays, the Reserve Officers work extra hard as Flint police officers ring the bell for the Red Kettle Campaign at the Flint Farmers’ Market. The police department has also been involved with the Shop with a Hero program, in which police and firefighters take a child shopping for gifts.


Austin has been volunteering for about five years now, and wouldn’t have it any other way. “I feel like I help people,” she says. “The people at the police department have become like family to me. We wish we had more volunteers. We encourage you to get out and help wherever you can.”

Wilkinson says, “I encourage everybody to take a moment and give to the Red Kettle Campaign. It is by far one of the best programs out there. The funds and toys all go to our local communities. It all stays right here in Genesee County.”


You can help

For information about becoming a volunteer for The Salvation Army or Emergency Disaster Services (EDS) volunteer training opportunities, please call Lydia at 810.600.4497.

Salvation Army Red Kettle Campaign, Christmas Assistance Program and Toy Shop

Help the Salvation Army bring light to someone’s world this season. The Red Kettle Campaign runs until December 23, as Christmas Eve this year will be on Sunday. We have a few less days and sites this year to make our goal, so we hope Genesee County will be as generous this year as last. All gifts received in the Red Kettle will be used to support Salvation Army programs and services into 2018. According to Joy Martinbianco, Development Director, 555 food boxes were distributed during the Salvations Army’s Christmas Assistance Program last year. This program brings hope to many families that are unable to provide gifts and food for their children. Through the Christmas Assistance Toy Shop, the Salvation Army provides much-needed coats, hats, mittens, gloves for warmth, pajamas and toys for families with children 14 and under, so that Christmas morning is truly celebrated.


“The Salvation Army will continue to fight for
the good of those in need in our community.
We are grateful for our volunteers and civic partners
who enable us to serve with passion and effectiveness.”
Captain Caleb B. Senn

Photography by Eric Dutro & Provided by The Salvation Army


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