One Christmas tradition that brings joy to many people are bell ringers. A few years ago Summer Clemenson, our Lead Virtual Exclaimer, was out shopping with her nephews and niece. She had given each of the kids money to put in the kettle and watched as the red-heads bounded over to the lady ringing the bell, with huge smiles on their faces. They gladly waited their turn while each of them put their dollars in the kettle. Then they turned to the bundled-up lady and began wishing her a Merry Christmas and giving her hugs. As they walked away they heard her coughing and the oldest nephew, Casey, said, “We should pray for her.” All three kids stopped in their tracks, in the middle of the parking lot, bowed their heads and began to ask Jesus to make “that lady’s” cough go away. In a chorus of “Amens,” Summer was reminded why we even celebrate Christmas.

Salvation Army helps people every day of the year with meals, transitional housing, employment, clothing and many other services. During the holidays that need is greater.  In 2010 Salvation Army served over 1000 families with food boxes, vouchers and gifts for their children. If you feel compelled to ring bells, we want to give you a few tips to help you be successful.

Know Why You Are There

Salvation Army has been serving families for over 130 years. Bell ringing begins the day after Thanksgiving and goes until Christmas Eve. A number of stores do not allow people to ring bells in front of their establishment and we want to be appreciate the ones that do.

Many times people who are homeless or between jobs are hired through local employment agencies to ring bells. Often times those people do not collect enough donations to pay their wage. When you volunteer you make it possible to pay someone who really needs it.

Volunteers are so important because they want to be there and you can tell, by the way they ring their bell.

One cold Saturday night at the beginning of this season, an older gentleman came up to the kettle where our Lead Toe-to-Toe Exclaimer, Karen Gidderon and niece were and told them how much the Salvation Army meant to him. Many years ago, after he’d just been discharged from the Army, he and his wife and two kids were having a hard time making ends meet. He told them, if it weren’t for the Salvation Army they would not have been able to make it. His kids received toys from the Christmas Angel Center and the family also got a nice food basket. He then put a twenty dollar bill into the kettle and went inside the store to shop. After a while the gentleman came out of the store with several bags. He stopped at their kettle again and asked where the money from the kettle goes. We told him 85% of the money stays right here in our area. He was elated and reached in his pocket and put another 20 dollar bill in the kettle. “Merry Christmas and Thank You,” he said.

Bring a Friend

You might be surprised by the things people say to you when you ring bells. Having a little support from a great friend will make your time go faster and be a lot more fun even if you have to tell someone why you can’t give them any of Salvation Army’s money from the kettle or apologize because someone that mailed in a check feels frustrated that you might be asking for more.

If you have kids or can borrow a friend’s kid, bring them. Some people actually gave more money because our niece and nephews are so cute and polite. This is also the best way to teach volunteerism.

There is power in numbers. Calling a friend or posting on Facebook, Twitter or your favorite networking sites, where you will be ringing and what time not only may bring people to see you and give you some encouragement, but maybe equates to more money in the kettle. It also reminds others what the season is all about; giving.

Be Festive

People love to get candy canes! Stopping to pick up a few boxes of candy to give to people will also bless your heart because everyone likes to give (even you) and be appreciated.

Presentation counts. When you are dressed in bright, happy colors, people will be more likely to stop and notice you. Karen and Summer found that wearing fun hats made the kids, and kids-at-heart want to stop and chat. Usually they dropped the change in their pockets in the kettle while they laughed (at) with you.

Make sure to wish people a Merry Christmas. Thank you goes a long way too!

Note: Bell ringers do want you to give money to the kettle, but most bell ringers want to bring joy to those they see more. If you can’t give or have already given just be friendly. We are not offended by kindness and understand limits.

Be Happy

Nobody wants to put money in the kettle that Oscar the Grouch is ringing at. If you don’t feel well or don’t really want to be there, let someone who wants to be there, ring the bell. Salvation Army appreciates help from people that want to give; not people that feel  obligated.

If you encounter a grumpy bell ringer we encourage you to say something extra nice. If they are alone they might be having a hard time coming back from a rude remark or maybe they are just tired. Taking the time to spread some cheer to someone is a simple and contagious gift.

Don’t Just Stand There

We have rung the bell several times and found that if you stand still the whole time you are ringing bells you are going to be stiff and sore when you leave. Cement is terrible on joints and muscles. The chemical compound drains your energy and your body heat. So…move! Dance! Bounce around! People will love your energy and getting your blood moving will keep your heart happy and your muscles working without complaint.

Sing! Whether you have great sounding pipes or not, people walking by appreciate your effort and sometimes they even give more because of it. Singing with your bell ringing buddy will make your time more enjoyable and keep the feeling of joy flowing.

Even when your voice is sore from singing you can keep the music going. Summer laughed one of the times she and Karen were out there because it was obvious they had the same song going through their minds. They had been dancing to the same beat and playing the song with their bells. As people stopped and waved they knew that their energy was appreciated. People even walked up and told them how much they enjoyed the show.

We also recommend that you bring something hot to drink and make sure to set it at your feet between sips. The occasional bending over all the way will stretch the muscles in the back of your legs and relax your back and the liquids will warm you and keep you hydrated.

If the store you are ringing at has that bumpy metal grate in front of it to stop run away shopping carts we recommend that you stand there when your feet have had enough. The metal doesn’t steal the warmth from your body and the bumps feel nice on tired feet.

Understand Limits

Believe it or not, bell ringing is HARD WORK! You don’t usually sit down. As mentioned before, the cement is terrible on your feet and legs. Eventually your arms might even be sore from repetitive motion.

A shift beyond 2 hours is work. If you want to give more than 2 hours we are positive that Bobbie at Salvation Army, who organizes the bell ringers, would love to have you back on another day.

If you are bringing children we recommend you only take a 1 hour shift. Anything beyond this will be frustrating to you and to your bored kids.

Be Willing to Give

When you are ringing bells you are representing Salvation Army. Don’t be afraid to go the extra mile. Tell people why you are there. If people want to drop off gifts for the Christmas Angel Community Center don’t be afraid to take them. The captain that comes to take your kettle will be glad to take toy and clothing donations to the center for you.

We really love the idea of local business owners giving back by donating 2 hours of bell ringing each season. It is a great way to build the community and also to advertise yourself….There is nothing wrong with having business cards in your pocket or telling your patrons that you helped your community.

If you would like to help ring bells please contact Salvation Army. They will love to hear from you.

Salvation Army
1639 10th Ave
Longview, WA 98632

 Volunteers are also needed at the Christmas Angel Community Center…but that is another blog entry!

 Have an EXCLAIMATIOUS Christmas!

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