It’s one thing to ask people what being a bell ringer for the Salvation Army is like. It’s quite another to step in and try it.
So I put on a Santa hat, picked up a bell in front of Kroger Marketplace and entered the ranks of those who brave the elements and sometimes indifferent passersby to try to help people who are less fortunate at Christmas.
Of course, I was ringing in 50-degree weather, in sunshine, not quite the test some ringers face in the colder days of December. But in a way it was more of a challenge, as I was chirping out holiday greetings as people are just warming up to the Christmas season.
Being a rookie, I started out my two-hour shift with enthusiastic, loud and constant ringing. There was a choice of two bells, and I picked the larger and louder one, much to the delight of the children who were walking by.
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I quickly learned that the secret to successful bell ringing is not having inhibitions about interacting with people.
The more enthusiastically I rang the bell, the more people seem enamored with dropping bills or change in the kettle.
You could always tell when another more experienced bell ringer walked by. They would stop and thank me for volunteering while tucking some money in the kettle — smiling knowingly as I explained I was a rookie and had no idea what I was doing.
“Oh, you’re doing fine,” several of them said, one mentioning he could hear the bell from the kettle stand way out in the Kroger parking lot.
There were a few people who reacted negatively to my optimism about wishing them a happy holiday or a great day, with one passerby saying it had been a terrible year and it wasn’t improving on this day.
But the majority of people going into and out of the store seemed to enjoy the absolute ridiculousness of watching me try to ring a bell in which the clapper — the piece that hits the side of the bell to make a noise — started falling out and I would gasp, “Oh no,” and try to find it.
Sometimes they even helped me, laughing at the absurdity of a bell ringer whose bell was malfunctioning.
On several occasions, I asked for help from one of the kids passing by to ring the second bell as I frantically tried to fix the larger one. I may have even started my own “future Salvation Army bell ringer volunteers” squad, as some of the kids really didn’t want to stop when I fixed the clapper and started in again.
Once gentlemen joked as he put some folded bills into the kettle that I should use them for a new bell. Or at least to pay whoever did bell maintenance.
The Salvation Army is looking for bell ringers to cover 7,000 hours of ringing that is needed between now and Dec. 26 at a variety of locations in Bartholomew County, and perhaps you’re considering it.
One of the things I thought about was that each penny that went into that kettle will help provide food and other necessities to families here who need help during the Christmas season.
The day after my bell ringing, I learned there was about $150 to $175 in the kettle at the end of my shift.
The experience has left me feeling optimistic about the holiday season. I may have said “Have a great holiday” or “Merry Christmas” hundreds of times, but nearly every time the wish came back to me with a smile and similar returned sincere reply.
If you’re needing some of that, visit registertoring.com and sign up.
They even provide the bells.
Julie McClure has served as assistant managing editor at The Republic for the past four years. Her stint this week as a bell ringer for the Salvation Army was her first, however.