You are here:  Home  >  News  >  Current Article

Shakers and movers of the bell

By   /   December 4, 2009  /   Comments

“Stand near the kettle. Keep the bell ringing. Greet people. Smile. Don’t eat on the job. No. Not even a candy bar. No radio. Don’t smoke at the kettle. Don’t ask shoppers for donations.” The rules are the same for every bell ringer.

I like to say I have steady work. I work for the Salvation Army every Christmas season as a bell ringer. The work is seasonal for one month, about 175 to 220 hours total during the holidays. I’ve worked steady for five years, but it isn’t full-time employment. This year I’m bell-ringing in Albany. I’ve been homeless for a few years. I’ve had jobs lasting from a few days to a year. But the most memorable job I got was when I was hired by Capt. Richard Pease for a season of bell-ringing for the Salvation Army Red Kettle Campaign in Newport, on the Oregon coast. I’ve relied on the Salvation Army for work during the holidays ever since.

The captain, pastor of a Salvation Army church, took an interest in my life and circumstances. He asked if I could work 40-hour shifts. He understood that I was without a place to live. He understood it; I wasn’t just a homeless guy. He understood what it takes to walk off the streets out of homelessness into a productive life — job, home, stability. He helped pull me out of homelessness by giving me work. He put the Salvation Army’s money where some only give lip service. I can attest to the fact: the Salvation Army cares.

The captain trusted me right away. He put me in charge of the kettle stand at a busy department store in Lincoln City, Oreg., 35 miles from Newport, his office location. The captain put me up with a Salvation Army voucher at a motel until I got my first paycheck. Rather than drive the 45 minutes each way, twice daily, with a bell-ringer and kettle to relieve the shift in Lincoln City, he left me in charge of donations. The shifts ran from 10 or 11 a.m. to closing time, 7:30-9 p.m. His trust was based on only one background check, an interview, and old, out-dated references. He knew I had been homeless for awhile, but he didn’t hold stereotyped ideas about those homeless “bums.”

I have known Capt. Pease for five years as a friend, and mentor in compassion and bell-ringing:

“Stand near the kettle. Keep the bell ringing. Greet people. Smile. Don’t eat on the job. No. Not even a candy bar. No radio. Don’t smoke at the kettle. Don’t ask shoppers for donations.” The rules are the same for every bell ringer.

The bell does the asking and I just thank the person donating in the name of the Salvation Army and wish all a required, “Happy Holidays.” The third year Salvation Army was less politically correct. “Merry Christmas” was acceptable. I always remembered who I worked for and tried to live up to their standards. I thought of it as being the Salvation Army representative in town while I worked.

Store employees always seem generous everywhere I’ve worked. They’d come out on break and throw some change or a dollar or two in the kettle. Some took pity when it was cold. I’d get handed a cup of coffee, or a pair of heavy gloves only a polar bear could wear — one even brought me long Johns. Bell Ringers can’t take monetary gratuities. But my understanding has been that small gifts like coffee or long Johns are acceptable.

The public is a hard taskmaster. I’ve had people complain to the boss that they had seen me take money from people donating money, who were in a big hurry and would probably have thrown the money at the kettle if I hadn’t intervened; disabled who couldn’t reach the slot on the kettle; or toddlers who couldn’t reach high enough.

People who donate always make me think they have given as much as they possibly can give. Some throw in change. Then they turn back and say, I forgot. I have another couple dollars. They throw that in the kettle. Sometimes they are apologetic—That’s all I have; I spent it shopping. I’ll remember you next time, and they do.

Winter on the Oregon coast is not quite cold enough for snow, but worse. I remember more than one freezing rain storm, a couple of hail storms, and occasionally near typhoon force winds. If the wind blew down the sidewalk, I’d watch as customers exiting the store were nearly swept away by a surprise gust of 50-60 mph wind. And still they donated. I remember holding on to heavy objects like telephone poles walking to the grocery store to get lunch on break, and sailing downwind back to work. Most stores don’t want bells-ringing in the store itself so weather is something you live with, hail or high water. Usually, bell ringers stop work during severe weather.

The most excitement I had bell ringing was my mistake. Leaving your kettle unattended, even for a minute, is not only negligent and can get you fired, but an invitation to those opportunistic thieves, ever-present. Just inside the door; just for a minute, I thought. My feet were nearing freezing temperatures. Shoppers were staying home tonight. It was late, 7 p.m. The store closed at 8 p.m. I expected the captain to pick up the kettle anytime. The kettle was never out of sight — what could happen?

I saw a pair of legs through the glass door and a hand reaching for the kettle stand, lifting it. Great, I thought, the captain is getting the kettle. No. “Hey, is that guy robbing you?” a man in the parking lot yelled as I stepped out to greet the captain. I looked and saw a man running down the sidewalk, carrying the stand with the kettle still attached, bouncing along. “Yes,” I yelled, and followed the running thief. The robber turned at the corner of the building and slipped into the dark — an embankment to the road on that side. In rear an employee parking lot. I didn’t feel brave enough to chase. An employee next door called the police. Around the corner I found the stand and kettle. The thief was gone; the kettle was unopened.

“Someone drove around back and hit the thief with his car,” a customer said. “He dropped the kettle and took off running.” The police never found him.

I’ve started bell ringing in Albany. The job is still the same job. The work is sometimes harsh in the weather, boring when it’s slow, but the rewards are worth the effort. A lot of people depend on the Salvation Army and the bell ringers who collect donations. I can’t imagine a Christmas without the Salvation Army. At least once a year I have a warm bed, a hot meal, and a steady job.

By Phil Hennin

    Print       Email
  • Published: 2096 days ago on December 4, 2009
  • By:
  • Last Modified: December 3, 2009 @ 10:23 am
  • Filed Under: News
  • Tagged With: christmas

You might also like...


Read More →
SEO Powered by Platinum SEO from Techblissonline