Dick Hagerty: Christmas Angels team gathers most in Modesto Kettle Kickoff, but the poor are the real winners

12/14/2013 12:00 AM

12/13/2013 6:04 PM

“Upon further review,” as they say in the National Football League, the Christmas Angels bell-ringing team has been declared the winner following the recent annual Salvation Army Kettle Kickoff event.

When all the individual kettle tallies were posted, it was apparent to some of the Angels team members that there had been a clear omission in the final count of one of the Angel kettles. A recount soon disclosed an uncounted $6,000 – which not only pushed the team past the Modesto Rotary/Kiwanis team, but also boosted the final tally past the magic $200,000 goal.

When you visualize teams of volunteers counting nearly 100 kettles from 34 teams, all in the space of just 20 minutes, it is easy to see how mistakes can be made. Fortunately the error was caught, the funds are intact and the real winners – no offense to the Angels – are the less fortunate in our community who will again have a warm place to stay, hot meals on a regular basis, food baskets to take home, toys for the kids, and all the other things that most of the rest of us take for granted.

The secret ingredient for the success of the Kettle Kickoff – now more than 20 years in existence – is the concept of team competition. These teams are carefully matched, often featuring leaders of businesses or organizations that compete in the market place. Yet on Kickoff day, these rivalries are put aside as those leaders work together to solicit and generate funds for their respective teams.

From the beginning, the Christmas Angels have worked miracles with their energy, contacts and friendships, all coming together to make their efforts such a great success.

The original Angel team was headed by the grande dame of Modesto charities, Bette Belle Smith. In fact, the entire project was conceived in the creative minds of Bette Belle and the late Hugh Barton. How ironic that news of Hugh’s passing came on the day before we staged this year’s event.

Alongside Bette Belle came Marie Gallo, Kenni Friedman and Betty Ustach. From the beginning, that posed a most formidable team to work against. In recent years Stacey Filippi and Lynn Dickerson came on board. And this year they added yet another stalwart member in Mary McGranahan, the daughter of Bette Belle and Jean Smith. What a lineup!

Just an hour after the final tally was posted, my Pastor Dave Kerr – a fellow advisory board member – contacted me with an anguished, “I just discovered a check for $5,000 on my desk that was supposed to go in my bucket.”

Meanwhile, several attendees came forward and offered additional contributions to push our total toward $200,000, and an anonymous donor contacted Larry Dempsey and said, “I will make up the entire difference.” We were elated.

Then, as funds continued to come in, we told him that the $13,000 gap he had pledged to fill was now just $7,000. When the $6,000 error was fixed, we were only a few dollars short, even without his gracious gift. He insisted on making the last gap check for $6,883, even though we told him the goal was reached.

Thus, in the end, to everyone’s delight, the grand total stands at $206,635! The Angels brought in a whopping $44,257 and Rotary/Kiwanis was close behind at $40,921. Winners all, and thanks to all for making Christmas a little brighter for lots of people in need.

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