KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Salvation Army's red kettles are a staple of the holiday season.
There's a real meaning attached to each one and good use for each dollar that's stuffed into them.
Caring souls at the Salvation Army Children's Shelter realize no kids intend to be here. That's why shelter leaders in Kansas City's Midtown try to make this a wonderful temporary home for as many as 20 children at a time.
Erin Eaton, the shelter's director, said the Christmas season is extra special to them. Salvation Army staff provides hot meals and a safe place to sleep for kids who are enduring terrible times.
Many of the kids who stay at the shelter are victims of neglect and abuse. Some are awaiting entry into foster care. Most of them are uncertain of what their futures hold.
Eaton said the shelter wants all their residents, whose ages range from infant to 17 years, to experience compassion and support.
"The kids who are placed here are often fed three square meals a day for the first time in their lives. They know where they're going to sleep every night," Eaton told FOX4.
"I think people hear the word shelter, and they think dark and depressing," Eaton said.
However, Salvation Army leaders go to great lengths to make the shelter colorful, welcoming and fun. Meals are hot and plentiful. Smiles and hugs are common and sincere.
A Salvation Army spokesperson said 172 children stayed at the shelter in 2018.
Salvation Army staff member Malcolm Reliford knows. The 34-year-old was one of the kids staying there 30 years ago. He said he was taken from his mother at a young age and placed in the shelter.
Three decades later, he still remembers how the shelter staff worked to give kids a joyous Christmas season, with presents, carols and visits from Santa Claus.
"I want to give kids what I didn't receive," Reliford said. "The atmosphere is just different. It takes your worry away from thinking about the crazy things in life."
Money that comes from those red kettles helps, but the shelter always has needs. Eaton said the center needs gift cards that can be used for unforeseen expenses throughout the year.
She said there's also an urgent need for donated trendy clothes for teenage boys and girls. That age group, according to Reliford and Eaton, is often overlooked by donors.
"Sometimes, it is as simple as meeting them at the door when they get home from school, and asking, 'How was school today?' Simple acts like that can be the most-changing for the children we get to see," Eaton said.
"There was always somebody there to comfort me and let me know everything was alright," Reliford added.
The red kettles are still out and about. There are more than 200 metro locations where the bells are still ringing, where they'll remain until Christmas Eve.
A good portion of those donations go to help kids at the Salvation Army Children's Shelter. All money raised in the Kansas City metro supports Salvation Army programs locally.