Friday, December 17, 2010

Ringing The Bell For The Salvation Army

I had the opportunity to do some work-sanctioned volunteer work the other day. I chose to become a bell ringer for the Salvation Army. The Salvation Army is one of the world's largest providers of social aid, helping more than 32 million people in the U.S. alone. The American Institute of Philanthropy constantly rates The Salvation Army highly, indicating that they're a good, safe cause to donate time and money to. Besides, I had always thought that being a bell ringer for the red kettle looked like fun.

So, while wearing a goofy Santa hat and a pair of festive sunglasses, I took up the apron and bell and started my tenure as a guardian of the red kettle. Donations started coming in almost immediately. One young child passing by admonished me for not singing. I resisted the urge to sing "Hells Bells" and struggled to think of a Christmas carol that I knew all of the words to that hadn't been written by the creators of South Park. The best I could do was muddle through a few verses of "Let it Snow".

About thirty minutes into my ringing, I pivoted around wrong and aggravated a leg injury I had sustained while I was in college. I bit my lip hard to avoid screaming out in pain. I couldn't put any weight on my leg. I leaned back against the wall to balance myself, still ringing the bell. Moments later, an elderly man hobbled over to me, looked me up and down and said "You know, you're allowed to take a break, son". I smiled and indicated that I would be okay after a minute or two.

It turns out that the old timer had been a long time bell ringer for the Salvation Army but had to eventually drop out due to failing health. "It's always nice to see someone volunteer to help keep the crap pot boiling who isn't homeless or a convicted felon". He continued on to tell me about how he worried that the kettles and the ringers were becoming little more than scenery and background noise during the Christmas season. He blamed some of this on the so-called innovations that had begun to crop up. "You know, they have self-ringing kettles now? Some kettles even take credit cards", he told me.

My new friend took a moment to belt out a few verses of "Silent Night" with his towering tenor. All the while, people shuffled by. Some of them donated, some of them didn't. And before he left, the old timer gave me some advice: "Stay warm. Celebrate any donations, but don't take rejections personally. Keep a smile on your face.  And, above all, keep that bell ringing". I'd say that's good advice for just about any situation.

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