Bell ringer for Salvation Army takes opportunity to learn

Published: December 22, 2005 | 3090th good news item since 2003

Among the many holiday iconic images, few are as readily recognizable as the ceaselessly tinkling silver bells that announce to all the presence of the Salvation Army’s ubiquitous red kettles.

Pass through the entrance of any large store or market this time of year and you stand a very good chance of encountering a volunteer ringer and the bucket that silently tugs at your soul for instant gratification.

It is a hard heart indeed that can pass by a kettle without making some sort of contribution.

But it happens, of course. Many people, either caught up in their own worlds and oblivious to the sights and sounds all around them, or else faking same, manage to trudge on by without even a kettle-ward glance.

Thankfully, these folks are the exception. And who knows? Perhaps they already donated a few dollars at another kettle or through some other means. Merry Christmas to them all, in any case.

On Wednesday morning, I had the privilege of helping this terrific organization, which provides all sorts of essential services to people in our community. And not just before and after hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters. The Salvation Army is a ministry that provides a range of counseling services and helps with life’s essentials, such as paying utility and housing bills or getting used furniture and clothing for families.

In short, our community would be a terribly diminished place without this organization.

So, here are a few observations from a morning spent ringing the chimes outside the bustling Inverness Publix:

There are only so many variations on the shake that such a little bell will allow. Trying to carry a tune is an impossibility. And forget any attempt at Jingle Bells. Ain’t happening.

Without exception, adults with children who stop to donate give the money to the kids and direct them to put it into the bucket. This small gesture is ensuring that a new generation of givers is being groomed.

If you stand in one place in Citrus County long enough, you will see someone you know. In a relatively short span, I spoke to nearly two dozen friends and acquaintances. And this was the middle of a weekday morning.

One older gentleman stuffed a dollar in the pot and noted that he gives at every red kettle he encounters. This is in gratitude, he said, for the help that the Salvation Army gave him during World War II.

The overwhelming fan favorite of donations, by the way, is a dollar bill folded widthwise and stuffed into the cross-hair slots.

Standing near a busy parking lot allows for other random acts of kindness. I directed at least two sets of people who had forgotten where they parked to their vehicles. (I had been watching people walk through the parking lot, trying to guess if they would be donors, and remembered them.)

On a related note, I may be the only person in Florida who does not have a handicapped placard hanging from my rearview mirror.

Ringing a bell and wishing strangers good holiday cheer tends to bring out the best in people. Teens on skateboards swooshing past folks pushing loaded shopping carts does not. Most of the adults just grumbled at the kids, but one gentleman bereft of the Christmas spirit vowed to insert the board into a bodily orifice of one of the teens, an act that would defy simple human physiology.

Everyone in America, it seems, knows about the Salvation Army’s kettle drive, but the information has not crossed the Atlantic. A British fellow stopped to ask just what the bell and bucket was all about. After a brief explanation, a light went on, and he recalled that kettle keepers have been in the news lately.

“Have thieves been pilfering them, then?” asked the delightfully erudite Englishman. “And are you carrying a gun?”

I assured him that I was armed only with good cheer – and a tinkling bell. “In England, we would shoot them, then toss them into the Irish Sea,” he said with a grim smile.

It is amazing how an unexpected “Merry Christmas” will uncrease even the most hardened face. Startled strangers just seem to glow when doused with this simple greeting.

And in a corollary, this surprise assault of good wishes on someone who has almost, but not quite, passed by without making eye contact quite often makes the person stop and fish around in a pocket or purse for a spare dollar for the kettle.

Can this be misinterpreted as laying on a holiday guilt trip? Perhaps.

But it’s all for a good cause, so my conscience is clear.

Besides, my kettle is a bit light today, so dig deep. For a fiver, I’ll play you a tune with my bell. For a ten-spot, I’ll stop.

Published in Life, Volunteer
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