Friday morning.  I’m standing with seven men on the top level of a parking ramp while traffic whizzes by westbound on US 54/400.  It’s cool, clear, bright. The kind of early November day that guys like.  A lot of them are out deer hunting today.

Major Doug Rowland, City Commander of The Salvation Army in Wichita, and several of his staff are wrangling a 30 foot tall steel tripod frame painted kettle red.  I’m trying to lend a hand but these guys pretty much have it.  They’re raising it off a trailer.  A rope is tied to the frame’s top and the other end hitched around the front bumper of a van.  Carefully, the van backs.  The frame rises.  All of us watch closely in case the frame wants to buck and topple over on us.  Thump.  All three legs are now on the parking deck.

Wichita.  Kansas’ largest city.  It’s Wichita’s Kettle Kick Off Day.  Later that evening, Salvation Army band, officers, soldiers, staff, Advisory Board members, civic leaders and Army friends will gather in Old Town to officially open the Christmas Kettle season.  It runs longer than deer hunting season.

I was in Wichita for two days to see all that the Army does in one of the ten largest cities of the Midwest. 

The last three decades have been a time of population decline in most Midwest cities.  St Louis, Milwaukee.  Detroit.  Even Chicago.  All have experienced shrinking populations.  Except Minneapolis-St Paul.  And Wichita.  It continued to grow during these years. It’s still growing.  Metro Wichita now is home to over 600,000.

The frame is now positioned near the east corner of the deck.  Just so.  Making sure that the Salvation Army shield at the top faces approaching traffic.  Last year it faced passing traffic which gave each motorist and their passengers about one second to see it.  This year you can read it.

Salvation Army forces in Wichita?  Two growing corps.  A City Command with oversight of all Army operations including extensive foster services, work with young people newly released from the juvenile justice system, homeless shelter and transitional housing programs, emergency assistance.  And Camp Hiawatha, a year-round camp operated by City Command.  43 acres of program and lodging facilities that sparkle on this bright November day.

Thousands of struggling Wichitans will be helped this holiday season with food and Christmas toys for children.  Friday morning City Command hosted a training session for several dozen interviewers who will begin Monday to assist people with applications.  Last year, 11,000 children received a Christmas gift from the Army in Wichita.

Now, the kettle.  Made of a frame of steel rod covered by red mesh.  Piped with red lights.  All eight of us lift it into place on the frame.  We look like a Busby Berkeley routine.  Not as graceful.  But the job gets done.

Later that evening, leaving Wichita.  Driving on US 54/400 I see the 30 foot tall Christmas kettle.  I say to myself ‘I helped put that up’.  I head west.