DRESSED IN A KHAKI COAT and sporting a Vietnam veteran’s cap, he rolled up to the Faribault Walmart in his motorized cart Saturday morning. He stopped outside the entry, where my husband and I were ringing bells for the Salvation Army.
I thanked him for his service to our country. And then he pulled some change from his pocket, dropping the coins into my palm to place in the red kettle. He had a story to share, too. Back in the 1950s, growing up in northeast Minneapolis, he was helped by the Salvation Army.
This soldier’s story touched me, moved me nearly to tears. His wasn’t the only story I heard during our two-hour bell ringing shift. Another man, Tom, explained that he gives to the Red Kettle Campaign because the Salvation Army aided his niece in South Carolina. “It means something to me,” he said.
Mostly, I don’t know the reasons people give. I am simply thankful that they pause to stuff bills or drop coins into the kettle. For the first time since I began ringing bells several years ago, I watched a man pull up in his vehicle, park, donate and drive away. Likewise, a woman stopped, rolled down her car window and handed me $20. These two went out of their way to give to others.
What perhaps touches me most are the young families who donate. I watched as dads and moms hoisted preschoolers high enough to reach the kettle, patiently waiting as stubby fingers pushed coins into the slot or folded bills to fit therein. My husband and I thanked the kids with a kiss—a foil-wrapped chocolate kiss. And I thanked the parents for teaching their children to give.
Ringing bells for two hours is about more than collecting donations for the Salvation Army. It’s about listening to stories. It’s about greeting shoppers with a smile and a warm welcome, whether they choose to give or not. It’s about encouraging philanthropy and thanking young parents and their children. It’s about thinking of others during the Christmas season. And that, perhaps, is the greatest gift we can give ourselves.
© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbing