Like store shelves bulging with goods and seasonal music bombarding the air, the appearance of the Salvation Army kettle is a sure sign that Christmas is not far off.
In Whitehorse, one of the most recognizable faces beside that kettle belongs to Stan Marinoske.
“I believe we started with the Sally Ann kettles the first year they did it. I think it was 1982,” says Marinoske as he works his post on the second day of the 24-day Advent period.
The “we” he refers to is the Whitehorse Kiwanis Club, the city’s oldest service club and one of several clubs and churches that go to bat for the Salvation Army every year.
At 68, Marinoske is president – “Again!” – of the local club. While its numbers have dwindled in recent years, the club continues to provide a full roster of volunteers every year.
In 28 years, Marinoske hasn’t missed a single Christmas as a kettle volunteer. His wife, Leona, has also taken part every year since women were allowed to become Kiwanians in the late 1980s.
Today, she is in a lawn chair at the Superstore, knitting as she tends her kettle. He is at his favourite post, the Whitehorse Liquor Store.
“This is probably the best spot in town. We’re inside now, and we don’t shake the bells, because it drives people crazy in a few hours,” he explains.
“Sometimes I think we were better off when we were outside. If you stand outside and you look like you’re freezing, it elicits a little more empathy, or sympathy, I guess,” he adds with a chuckle.
It’s still too early to tell how well this year’s campaign is shaping up, but Marinoske says most weekends are “pretty good” in terms of donations.
“People in Whitehorse are very generous givers. The kettles usually do quite well,” he says. “I think people recognize there’s a strong need.”
On this day, his own kettle displays an impressive number of $20 bills as well as lower-denomination bills and many coins.
“Years ago, before they came out with the loonie and the toonie, you could be loaded up with ones and twos, but now there’s always quite a few fives and tens and twenties in there,” he says.
“It’s picked up quite a bit over the years. We get the occasional fifty and hundred in there as well.”
Until he retired in 2002, Marinoske worked as Director of Finance for what was then the Yukon Government’s department of Renewable Resources.
Surprisingly, he doesn’t get involved in such matters as how much the campaign raises, or even what the year’s target may be.
That’s the responsibility of Captain Shannon Howard of the Salvation Army, who says this year’s goal for the kettle campaign is $60,000, up slightly from the $56,000 it brought in last year.
Donations go to support the Army’s work among disadvantaged Yukoners, specifically its shelter and soup kitchen on Fourth Avenue. Everything collected from the kettle drive and other Christmas-season fundraising remains in the community, Howard says.
Local Kiwanis volunteers don’t usually dress up in Santa attire, as some do elsewhere, but today Marinoske sports a jaunty red stocking-cap with leopard-print trim for the camera.
Besides helping the community, his volunteer work for the Salvation Army also has a social aspect.
“I get to see a lot of people I know, and lots of people who know me, but I haven’t got the faintest idea who they are, you know,” he laughs. “Maybe it’s my age showing. I don’t recognize everybody anymore.”
After 28 years, he has a strategy for those he does recognize.
“You can always eyeball them and convince them to put something in. But subtly. You don’t trip anybody as they’re walking out the door.”
And what about those who avoid eye contact, or sheepishly try to slip by unnoticed?
“There are a few, yes, but I don’t think there’s any need to feel guilty,” Marinoske says.
“You do what you can. If you can’t, you can’t, and if you’re not so inclined, you’re not so inclined.”