The view from the other side of the Red Kettle

By RANDALL RIGSBEE
Posted 12/6/18

We see them, year after year, faithfully standing by a red Salvation Army kettle, ringing a bell.You may even have volunteered to be a bell-ringer for the well-respected charitable organization …

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The view from the other side of the Red Kettle

Posted

We see them, year after year, faithfully standing by a red Salvation Army kettle, ringing a bell.
You may even have volunteered to be a bell-ringer for the well-respected charitable organization yourself.
And like many of you, I’ve placed money in those kettles for years, sometimes coins, sometimes bills, both always accepted by those bell-ringers with the same good cheer and graciousness.
But until last week, I had never seen one of the Salvation Army’s red kettles from the other side, as a bell-ringer.
After I was recruited last week to a two-hour slot ringing the bell at the pharmacy entrance outside the Siler City Walmart, I got some advice – dress warm, several said; be friendly, others reminded; one person with experience offered this: the sound of the bell would, soon after I began ringing it, become “white noise” I wouldn’t notice.
That last part may have been true, but the bell is obviously an important part of the job, reminding shoppers in and out of the store that there are people who could use some help, not only during the holidays, when the Salvation Army is most visible, but beyond. The charity’s important work continues year-round.
For my debut as a bell-ringer, the “dress warm” advice wasn’t necessary because last Friday, though windy, was one of those not-rare winter season days in central North Carolina that could pass for May or September.
More challenging than the weather for me was finding a position to stand between the in and out doors of Walmart where I wasn’t accidentally triggering the automated entrance and exit doors.
Once I found the sweet spot, I relaxed, began ringing the bell with just the right amount of gusto and restraint, and let the good people I encountered for the next two hours do the rest.
And they did.
I didn’t keep any running tallies in my head, but a lot of people gave. Old, young, in-between and all other sorts of varied descriptions, the common denominator being their kindness.
A lot of people stopped to talk.
Some told me stories of how the Salvation Army helped them or helped a friend.
My volunteer hours were not, to be clear, about me. I did it because of the great good the organization does and has done since its creation more than 150 years ago, and two hours of my time wasn’t asking very much.
But even if it wasn’t about me, I couldn’t help realizing some benefit from the experience.
I lost count of how many people, for instance, thanked me for what I was doing, or offered to buy me a soda or a bottle of water. One woman handed me a Snickers bar as she exited the store.
People gave walking in. Others gave walking out.
Some promised to give on the way in and while I lost track of some of the faces (I also confirmed, from spending two hours in front of Walmart, that a lot of people shop there, and it’s easy to forget who you’ve spoken to and who you haven’t) I think all who promised money on exit fulfilled the promise.
I suspect a few people dodged me, opting to enter the store through a side door where there was no bell-ringer (we had both main entrances covered), but that may have been my imagination.
What I know for sure is the warm, friendly, charitable response I observed of Walmart customers entering the store through the pharmacy side on Friday afternoon was enormous.
And though it wasn’t about me, my heart nearly hurt, so touched I was by the kindness so many people demonstrated.

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