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.
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.
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.
I will ring bells again, though.
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.
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.
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.
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