Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The Red Kettle Campaign: More than just ringing bells & collecting donations December 16, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Members of Trinity Lutheran Church rang bells at various Faribault locations on Saturday. Here Bud and Bev ring outside of Walmart.

Members of Trinity Lutheran Church rang Salvation Army bells at various Faribault locations on Saturday. Here Bud and Bev ring outside of Walmart.

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.

A man drops coins into the red kettle tended by Bud and Bev.

A man drops coins into the red kettle tended by Bud and Bev.

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.

Who knows when we may be in need of assistance?

Who knows when we may be in need of assistance?

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.

More giving...

More giving…

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.

I delighted in the many young parents who gave their children money to donate.

I delighted in the many young parents who gave their children money to donate.

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.

Hub replaced my husband and I in ringing bells at Walmart's south entry.

Hub replaced my husband and I in ringing bells at Walmart’s south entry.

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

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20 Responses to “The Red Kettle Campaign: More than just ringing bells & collecting donations”

  1. treadlemusic Says:

    A lovely post. Here in Houston, the “young people” have taken on the bell ringing and it’s so good to see. I think they may be even a tad surprised at the good time they have while doing it!!!!!!

  2. Almost Iowa Says:

    I never gave a twenty dollar bill but I usually break a couple of twenties and over the course of the holiday season hit just about every kettle in town. Hey, thanks for volunteering.

  3. Dan Traun Says:

    Thank you for your service with this particular army. It is folks like you that make this sort of thing happen. My wife was involved in a Toys For Tots challenge at her work. It was fun to help her shop for toys. Volunteering and giving is very rewarding.

    • I really enjoy ringing bells for the Salvation Army, a job made easier by 40-degree temps. One year the temp was at zero with a windchill. Now that was challenging. Our Walmart does not allow bell ringers to stand inside the store.

      Thank you to you and Cyndi for helping with Toys for Tots. That’s a great program also.

  4. MIKE BECKER Says:

    Had you ever considered a interview with “old time barbershops”? It may be fun if you can find any. Thank you for Minnesota Prairie Roots, we live in Oregon and I read it daily, what a delight! Thank you

    • Welcome, from Oregon, to the comments section of Minnesota Prairie Roots. I’m happy to have you here and as a reader, Mike. Do you have a connection to Minnesota?

      We have an active barbershop group here in Faribault, but I’ve never heard them.

  5. Littlesundog Says:

    One thing I learned by reading someone’s blog (can’t remember who) about people who can’t give or choose not to give, how they tend to move as far from the kettle as possible to gain entry to the store, while looking down or away – how it sometimes hurt the volunteer to purposefully be avoided or not acknowledged with a smile or greeting. We understand when people cannot give or choose not to give… but a smile and simple greeting is always welcomed. I rarely carry cash (rebellion from years of working in the financial industry) so many times I don’t drop anything in the bucket until I leave the store, or I remember to bring cash on my next outing. But I do thank the volunteers for their time, and greet them with a smile and eye contact every single time I meet them. Love and kindness are FREE and helps EVERYONE!!

    • You are precisely right on everything you write here. I always look directly at the people approaching me. Not to guilt them into giving, but rather to smile at and greet them. I see so many hurting eyes and faces; I am intuitively good at reading people and my husband tells me I can make anyone cry (in a good way).

      There are reasons people can’t always give. I understand that.

  6. Jackie Says:

    I think it’s wonderful that You and Randy ring the bell every year, we have only done it a few times, but I am inspired to try and get a session in this year. I try to give at most places, I figure I can at least do that! It’s a great cause!!!

  7. Beth Ann Says:

    I missed ringing bells this year — tried to but the slots were all filled up when I looked. I rang twice last year so maybe that made up for it. 🙂 I love this tradition and yes—there are always stories. 🙂

  8. Great post. This is one thing that I always have the kids do each year. They’ve done it so many times that they often ask for money to donate before I suggest it. Instead of giving in to a child’s “I want” I ask them what they can do for someone else.

  9. I’m a frequent visitor to South Station in Boston and every day during the season I see these dedicated and hearty souls out on the platform with their kettles and bells and I drop a buck when they are down my end of the station.

  10. It’s a great thing, the red kettles. Thanks for being a part of it.


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