Struggling to ring in the season: Salvation Army’s problem of finding bell ringers continues

If the current season has yet to ring a bell with most shoppers, there could be partly one reason.

And that’s the lack of Salvation Army kettle cohorts and their familiar ring-a-ling sound throughout Columbus during the annual Red Kettle Campaign that began in early November.

Leaders of the local social service agency and Christian church say the shortage of bell ringers — a problem locally and nationally for some 15 years — could lead to a financial shortfall. And that could in turn affect the nonprofit’s outreach in 2024 with its food pantry, summer camps, and other assistance throughout Bartholomew County.

In fact, ministry leaders have expressed that sentiment annually for the past few years, and say they are more than grateful when clubs and groups such as Kiwanis or churches get involved to ring in the season.

Yet, frustrations remain in the $150,000 campaign — one stretching through Dec. 23 at the kettles and the end of January for online and mail giving — that now stands at less than $20,000.

“Part of last year, we couldn’t even pay enough people to ring,” said Capt. Amy Tompkins, the Columbus Salvation Army’s leader.

Like a lot of the Salvation Army locations, each year she pays a number of ringers — often people who themselves need a slight boost — to be able to man kettles at the busier locations such as Hobby Lobby, Kroger, and Walmart. But this kettle season, she has trimmed the number of paid ringers to eight. She wants to do all that she can to make sure donations go directly to the cause of helping the less fortunate.

After, all the local Salvation Army pantry fed a record 723 local families in November, according to its figures. Most area food pantries have reported a growing food insecurity among families especially since the pandemic.

Adding to the challenging situation is that some retailers with high traffic — and sometimes generous passersby/givers — no longer allow the Salvation Army to ring on their property because the retailers say they then would need to allow other nonprofits as well to fundraise at their store. Plus, at least one other major retailer recently stopped allowing ringers on their property because of liability concerns, though the Salvation Army carries such insurance.

“But their corporate office and our national office are working on that (new agreement),” Tompkins said.

Currently, the nonprofit has 825 manned kettle hours scheduled. And it needs 1,092 hours still to be covered, according to Tompkins.

Ringer Dakota Laktonen said he has encouraged others to help the cause. He sat ringing in front of Hobby Lobby on National Road Thursday morning as most shoppers walked briskly past. In a span of abut 10 minutes, one person stopped to donate. Laktonen believes that most people want to be generous, especially this time of year.

“It’s always good to think of others,” he said amid a five-hour shift. “I always think of helping others. I think that’s part of growing up as a ’90s kid.”

When he lived in Colorado Springs, Colorado, a few years ago, he completed a few 10-hour shifts.

Last year, the local Salvation Army narrowly reached its $140,000 goal by the mail-in donation deadline in late January with a total of $140,179. The ministry reports that 87 percent of donations go directly to the cause and remain in Bartholomew County.

How to help

People can volunteer to man kettles and ring by signing up at Those who can’t find a kettle to give a donation also can give online at

How to help

People can volunteer to man kettles and ring by signing up at Those who can’t find a kettle to give a donation also can give online at