Ringing the bells of giving at Christmas

One of the warm moments of each Christmas holiday season is when you hear the sounds of the Salvation Army Red Kettle bells, encouraging your giving to help fund their many programs during the course of a year.

Sadly this year you may not be hearing as many bells and seeing as many kettles as you do your holiday shopping. Nina Harrelson of the Salvation Army for Memphis and the Mid-South said the organization has had difficulty finding bell ringers, so there are fewer kettles out there.  

“The kettle ringers are a huge part of what we do every single year,” Harrelson said. “This year we’ve been having a really hard time finding and recruiting volunteers and paid bell ringers because of the ongoing pandemic. People may notice that there are fewer kettles out and about. Of course, people can still give when they see red kettles out there or you can go online to Kettle901.org and you can donate that way.”

In DeSoto County, the shortage of Red Kettles is very evident. Normally during the course of a holiday season there might be as many as 20 kettles around store locations. However, Harrelson said this year there are only five in DeSoto County.

Francis J. Miller rings the kettle bells each year in front of the Interstate Blvd. Kroger store in Horn Lake. (Bob Bakken/DeSoto County News)

One of the five Red Kettles is found in front of the Interstate Boulevard Kroger store in Horn Lake. That’s where Francis J. Miller has been diligently ringing the bell with the kettle next to him, greeting customers and thanking them for their donations to the Salvation Army. 

Miller said he’s been a bell ringer for 12 years, including the last seven consecutive years. 

Harrelson said it’s not uncommon for bell ringers to be this loyal to the mission of the Salvation Army.

“We actually have quite a few volunteers who have been doing it for a very long time,” Harrelson pointed out. They love to do it every single year and they get their families involved or people at their workplace involved. We have another volunteer who has been doing it for nine years with his wife.”

Bell ringers can be offering their time on a volunteer basis, but Harrelson said there’s a method to apply to be a paid bell ringer and pick up a little extra holiday cash.  

“If people want to volunteer, they can visit our website and learn about volunteering opportunities to ring the bells, or they can apply to be a paid bell ringer at our website on the Career tab,” Harrelson said. “It pays $11 an hour so it’s a pretty good gig for somebody who is looking for something part time or maybe somebody who is retired or a high school or college student.”

Ringing the bells and standing with the traditional red kettle provides the Salvation Army with an important source of funding for its many outreach programs. 

“The kettles represent 20 percent of the donations we raise for the entire year,” Harrelson said. “Every dollar you put into the kettle makes a difference in peoples’ lives for the next year. That money helps fund our programs and services, our residential treatment program and services, including our homeless shelter for women and children.”

It was pointed out that Fridays in December and Thursday, Dec. 23 are special days for the Red Kettle Campaign. With the support of media partner WREG-TV, all donations on those days will mean more.  

“These Fridays, Dec 10, 17, and again on Thursday, Dec. 23, are going to be match days,” Harrelson explained. “If you give a dollar to a red kettle, you’ll be giving two dollars. If you’re giving $20, you’re really giving $40.”

She added strict protocols are put in place to protect bell ringers and donors from COVID-19. All kettles and stands are sanitized before and after every shift. Bell ringers are also wearing disposable masks and gloves as a protective measure. Ringers also go through a training session before they start about their requirements to keep safe while in front of a store or other location with the kettle and their bells.  

Each kettle this year also has a QR Code on it that donors may scan and donate through their mobile phone.  

Harrelson encourages more people to give to the Salvation Army and consider being a bell ringer this year by visiting the Salvation Army Memphis website to keep the clear, crisp ringing sound of giving this Christmas continuing in DeSoto County and the Mid-South. 

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