Lining up for Salvation Army Christmas baskets

Ever wonder exactly where your money goes when you drop bills or coins into a Salvation Army kettle?

In the early 1900s, the cash in those kettles helped fund Christmas dinner for New York’s less fortunate—include a takeaway dinner basket with enough food to feed six people.


The line to receive one of these baskets stretched down the block on 43rd Street and Lexington Avenue on December 25, 1908.


“A crowd of 5,000 eager men, women, and children formed a long line early yesterday morning outside the Grand Central Palace, waiting for the annual Christmas basket distribution of the Salvation Army,” wrote The New York Times the next day.


“There was not only dinner waiting, but staff Capt. Welde, from a large basket, distributed nickels for carfare, while further along the needy were provided with clothing.


“The staff brass band provided music and Police Capt. Landtry of the East 51st Street Station kept order. There was also a stereopticon exhibition and later in the day children received presents from a mammoth Christmas tree.”


Photographer George Bain captured these images of the Christmas Day wait in line, and then the faces of recipients as they took their goods home.

He also had the foresight to take a photo of the contents of the basket, above.

[Photos: LOC]

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3 Responses to “Lining up for Salvation Army Christmas baskets”

  1. Audrey Burtrum-Stanley Says:

    The SALVATION ARMY — a place for the cast-off and forgotten, tended by saints with the balm of love.

    These photos are very welcomed! It is especially good to see the contents of the gift baskets. Every area around the nation / world-wide, offers (offered) different groceries and supplies, but to actually see the items was a special treat for modern day observers. We have helped ring the Kettle’s bell, packed boxes (no more baskets) and have delivered to the poorest of the poor. The Salvation Army are always THE BEST people on Earth. Thanks for these treasured pictures.

    I ask all who happen to read this note to remember the family of the former head of the North Little Rock, Ark Salvation Army. A couple of years ago, some wretched youths came into his lil’ Christmas gathering and tried to rob the place. There was no money to be had amongst this crowd. The dear man was shot and died in front of his household and all attending there at the chapel. It is a tragedy that is not easily dismissed and for many reasons.

  2. A Salvation Army Art Deco fortress on 14th Street | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] of course, they launched the tradition of setting up kettles on busy corners, asking for Christmas dinner donations for needy […]

  3. A department store becomes a makeshift hospital | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] “In general, debarkation hospitals were intended to receive overseas patients who landed back on United States soil,” states a historical note to a collection of papers from a nurse at Debarkation Hospital No. 5, on Lexington Avenue and 46th Street in the former Grand Central Palace exhibition hall. […]

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