Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

My joyful experience ringing bells for the Salvation Army on a bitterly cold Minnesota day December 9, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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SNUGGED IN A FLANNEL SHIRT and jeans, layered under my husband’s insulated coveralls and sweatshirt, and with wool socks, insulated winter boots and mittens covering my extremities and a festive hat adding a holiday flair, I reported to my post at noon Saturday to ring bells for the Salvation Army.

Randy snapped this photo of me upon our return home from ringing bells. One donor suggested we receive "hazard pay" for ringing on such a bitterly cold day. There's no pay; this is a volunteer opportunity.

Randy snapped this photo of me upon our return home. One donor joked that we should receive “hazard pay” for ringing bells on such a bitterly cold day. This was a volunteer “job.”

The temperature hovered around zero degrees Fahrenheit (-18 Celsius) in Faribault as I tied on my red apron, secured a scarf around my neck (I would add a second later) and took over bell ringing duties from my friend Barb. My husband, Randy, replaced her husband, Gary.

The temperature at 11 a.m. Saturday in Faribault, just an hour before Randy and I began ringing bells.

The temperature at 11 a.m. Saturday in Faribault, just an hour before Randy and I began ringing bells.

For the next two hours, in bitter cold temperatures which challenged even the hardiest of life-long Minnesotans like us, we greeted visitors at the Walmart south entrance.

Now you might think I would never again want to ring bells given my fingers and toes and cheeks got uncomfortably cold. At one point, per friend and north Walmart bell ringer Virgil’s suggestion, I retreated to the women’s bathroom to warm my icy red fingers under the hand air dryer. Heat never felt so good.

Gary and Barb work the 10 a.m. to noon bell-ringing shift at Walmart south.

Gary and Barb work the 10 a.m. to noon bell-ringing shift at Walmart south.

I will ring bells again, though.

When my cheeks started hurting and flaming red, I added a second scarf.

When my cheeks started hurting and flaming red, I added a second scarf.

I will ring bells again because the temporary discomfort I experienced is nothing compared to the challenges faced by those who benefit from Salvation Army services. Funds help those in emergency situations cover gas, housing, medical and other expenses. Donations also finance the “Shop with a Cop” program assisting children in need.

Nearly 90 percent of the monies dropped into kettles in Rice County stay in the county. This year the county chapter hopes to raise $50,000. In 2012, nearly $40,000 were raised, which was not enough to meet local needs.

Gary and Barb welcomed a stranger's cups of coffee.

Gary and Barb, an hour into their two-hour shift, were getting cold, but still smiling.

To be a small part of the Salvation Army’s mission, by giving two hours of my time, proved humbling and rewarding. Friend Virgil rang for 1.50 shifts while Linda, another ringer from my church, Trinity Lutheran in Faribault, pulled a double shift. That’s four hours. Outside. In the bitter cold.

Two girls give to the Salvation Army on Gary and Barb's shift.

Two girls give to the Salvation Army on Gary and Barb’s shift.

I was especially moved by the young parents who are teaching their children the joy of giving. Several times I watched as youngsters barely tall enough to reach the kettle dropped coins into the slot, sometimes spilling the change onto the sidewalk. We rewarded 14 youngsters with candy canes for their generosity.

One particular boy, about nine, exuded extra energetic enthusiasm. “Have a good day!” he shouted to us after placing money in the kettle.

Moments like that are priceless as is the story one mother shared while her little boy put coins in the bucket. They had seen a Toys for Tots television ad, she said. He then wanted to donate a toy, if he could get one for himself, too. I thanked this mom for teaching her son about giving at such a young age.

Randy and I were also the recipients of gratitude. Numerous donors thanked us for ringing bells, especially on such a cold day. “Bless your heart,” one woman said. Those three words most assuredly warmed my heart.

And then, near the end of our two-hour shift, another woman exiting Walmart handed me two packs of chemical hand warmers to slip inside our mittens and gloves. I was incredibly moved by her thoughtfulness.

What a great mission as noted on the sign,

What a great mission as noted on the sign: “Sharing is caring…need knows no season…God bless you.”

In the previous shift, another stranger purchased coffee for Gary and Barb and doughnuts for Virgil and Linda. Again, such kindness.

When our shift ended, we handed our bells and aprons and hand warmers, and the remaining 22 candy canes reserved for kids, over to our friend Leann. She was ringing the Salvation Army bell with joyful enthusiasm as we walked away.

I learned later that Virgil retrieved his wife’s boots from his car for Leann, whose boots weren’t warm enough. Leann distributed 14 candy canes to giving children, just like us, then passed the remaining four treats to fourth-shift bell ringer, Dennis.

I asked Leann if she’d had any particularly memorable moments and she shared how a teen, who’d just purchased gifts and wrapping paper, paused to pull bills from his pocket and donate. Not only that, he told her how happy he was to give.

That, my friends, represents the true spirit of charitable giving.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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31 Responses to “My joyful experience ringing bells for the Salvation Army on a bitterly cold Minnesota day”

  1. Jackie Says:

    Bless your heart is right! Such a cold cold day to be out in the elements, I have never witnessed a bell ringer who wasnt cheerful despite the weather, you and Randy would most certainly fit the bill. I love the idea of giving hand-warmers to the ringers, so thoughtful!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Ringing bells was such a great experience. And, yes, the woman who gave us hand warmers was so thoughtful.

  2. Beth Ann Says:

    Good for you! I usually ring but haven’t done it yet this year—-I need to check online and see when times are available at Hobby Lobby—my fav place to ring!!! The beauty of being able to sign up online.
    It feels good to give in this way, doesn’t it??? I had this conversation with Katybeth of Odd Loves Company yesterday and I loved what she said—-“there is no down side to generosity”. So true and quotable!!!
    Stay warm–we finally got decent snow. Snow plow in driveway at 3 am , on the road at 4 am—I feel a nap will be needed today!

  3. The cold nearly killed me when I did it but the people in general were so kind and I too was moved by the parents with children. I also noticed that before someone came up I’d decide in my head who would contribute–so many times I was surprised and wrong! I loved your get-up!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      My “get-up” wasn’t exactly fashionable, but I was aiming for warmth, not fashionable appearance.

      I admit I was like you, speculating in my head which people would donate. And I, too, was surprised. But then, I guess we don’t know; maybe some folks had already given generously earlier. It was just an all-around great experience.

  4. treadlemusic Says:

    A perfectly joyful post and one that is, truly, reflective of the ‘real’ meaning of the season!! Blessings to you and Randy for your generous giving and to all who do such!!! Hugs…….

  5. Brrr for a Great Cause Indeed!!! I remember begging my mom for a penny to give the bell ringer growing up – ha! This is the TRUE SENSE of the SEASON for sure – Giving of yourself, your time, your donations, etc.:) I have to tell you I thought I would raise about 30 to 50 books for the Literacy Council here – raised 382 books – SO EXCITED!!! Happy Week – Stay Warm – Cold Here Too:)

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Your mother taught you well. I would have thanked you with a candy cane.

      Congrats on gathering 382 books for the Literacy Council. That is outstanding. There can never be enough books around. You should blog about that.

  6. That’s dedication! You are Minnesota Prairie strong 🙂

  7. hotlyspiced Says:

    Good on you, Audrey. I’ve never experienced cold like it and I’m quite sure I just wouldn’t survive if I was exposed to -18C. I’m super-impressed, not only for volunteering to help the Salvos but more so because you managed to take some photos – surely your hands were too frozen? Well done xx

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I thought I might be hearing from you about the cold temp. Today actually felt colder here because of the windchill. Yes, this is how the temp feels when you factor in the wind. The wind was biting cold today.

      My fingers got cold mighty fast when I was photographing Barb and Gary. I had forgotten my camera shooting gloves where I can expose just my fingers, leaving the rest of my hand inside the glove. So it was a quick shoot without anything on my hands.

  8. Sue Ready Says:

    Bless you for sharing your time despite very cold temperatures.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thank you, Sue. It was a wonderful experience. I will most definitely ring bells again for the Salvation Army.

  9. McGuffy Ann Says:

    Bless your hearts! This is truly wonderful. Merry Christmas.

  10. judyb1992 Says:

    What a blessing you are! Merry Christmas and May God bless and keep you safe.


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