For many bell ringers, this is not their first year volunteering.
Salvation Army advisory board member and bell ringer volunteer Judi Williams participated in the campaign for the third time this year.
“I’m a real nostalgic person, and so every time I see the red kettle and bells out it kind of takes you back to your childhood memories,” Williams said. “Mom used to take us to downtown Chattanooga, back when you still shopped downtown, and even Cleveland, and (I would) see the bell ringers out. I think it just kind of pulls on the heartstrings when you see that scene.”
She said each of the members on the advisory board works to sign up volunteers for specific days.
Last year, Williams encouraged her volunteers to be creative and have fun.
“We told people who were coming to ring bells they could dress up in their Christmas clothes. They could put on little reindeer antlers. They could sing. They could bring Christmas music and play it,” Williams said. “We asked people to just use their imaginations and just have fun with it, and that was a good thing.”
When it was her shift to ring a bell, Williams played Christmas carols.
“It’s very rewarding to take a one-hour time slot and know how that’s going to help pay an electric bill or buy a coat or a toy for a kid at Christmas,” Williams said.
Williams’ extended family has also volunteered as a result of her involvement.
“I’ve got a large family, so I appealed to them to take time slots,” Williams said.
Although many people were hesitant at first, they participated and enjoyed the experience.
“Once you get out there and you pick up the bell and ring it, you get hooked. It’s so gratifying,” Williams said. “Without fail, everyone who came out and rang bells wanted to come back and do it again next year.”
Repeat volunteer Ann Holder said almost everyone she saw during her one-hour shift this year donated to the cause. Holder volunteered with the campaign for the first time last year.
“Salvation Army is so good. They are packed and ready when there is a crisis or something, so I wanted to help them out,” Holder said. “I wanted to help the people out, too.”
While she was volunteering this year she met someone who had been helped by Salvation Army during a tragedy.
“A lady came by and she said, ‘Thank goodness for them because they helped me so much [in the aftermath of] the storm,’” Holder said.
Helping the community and meeting new people are Holder’s favorite aspects of participation.
Holder said she plans to continue the activity year after year.
“I might do it again this year,” Holder said.
Many bell ringers volunteer with groups they are already part of, taking an entire day at a location and dividing it into hourlong shifts. Holder volunteers with the Mount Olive Women’s Ministry.
Many of the bell ringers enjoy volunteering so much that they do not want to leave when their hour is up, said Teresa Norman, Holder’s daughter who has also volunteered with The Red Kettle Campaign.
“You meet so many interesting people,” Holder said.
Williams said she has seen a variety of people donate who at first glance might not appear able to give anything.
“It’s those people with a smile on their face that give you the greatest contributions,” Williams said.
In a press release The Salvation Army describes bell ringers in this way: ‘A bell in a volunteer’s hand is more than a bell … it is a hot meal for someone that is hungry, a warm blanket for someone who is cold, utility assistance for families in need, and emergency shelter for those in a difficult situation.”
If The Salvation Army cannot get enough volunteers to ring bells at each of the locations, they hire people to fill the spots.
“A smile and a great disposition are important for these musical volunteers to have. Volunteers are still needed for this year through Dec. 24. Those wanting to participate should contact The Salvation Army’s Ruthie Forgey at 423-304-9281.