Friends Judy Payne and Joan Carden spent some quality time together Wednesday afternoon. For two hours, they enjoyed the sunshine, shared some laughs, even spread some of their warmth to strangers.
Just an added bonus that they were raising money to help needy families in Shasta County at the same time.
The women, residents of the Mountain Gate area, rang small silver bells outside ShopKo on Lake Boulevard to attract attention to their red Salvation Army kettle. They are among the dozens of local volunteers helping collect coins and bills during the nonprofit organization’s annual Christmas kettle drive.
They are also part of a bell-ringing trend noted by Tawnya Stumpf, the Army’s Redding envoy. “I’ve seen women going out two at a time, having coffee and talking while they ring,” she said. “I’ve seen about six groups like that.”
The kettle drive, which started the day after Thanksgiving, ends at 3 p.m. Christmas Eve. As of mid-week, kettle contributions totaled $55,000 – more than halfway to a $100,000 goal, Stumpf said. All the money raised helps local residents throughout the year.
“We’re up 115 percent from where we were at this time last year,” she said. “This community has been awesome.”
To fully staff the kettles, 100 volunteers a day are needed to work two-hour shifts outside 22 sites that include grocery, drug and retail stores.
“We need more volunteers,” Stumpf said. “I could use another hundred.”
The Salvation Army switched from paid to volunteer bell ringers in the mid 1990s as a cost-saving measure. The Redding community has stepped up to the challenge, and people find all kinds of creative ways to help out, Stumpf said.
This year, for instance, residents of a home off South Bonnyview Road asked for a kettle to place outside their abode, popular for its Christmas lights display. They are seeking to raise $2,000 from the dozens of drivers who pass by to see the lights, Stumpf said.
Many service clubs sign up to cover slots, and the city of Redding and Shasta County engage in an annual kettle competition to see who can raise the most funds. Today, Redding City Manager Kurt Starman will compete bell-to-bell with Shasta County Administrative Officer Larry Lees and county Supervisor Les Baugh outside the Safeway at Cypress Avenue and Pine Street from noon to 2 p.m.
Earlier this week, Redding Electric Utility financial manager Mark Haddad logged some kettle time for the city outside J.C. Penney at the Mt. Shasta Mall. Joined by his wife, Linda, and daughter Stephanie, the festively dressed trio sang Christmas carols while they rang.
The Haddads took over the site from 16-year-old Sage Frank and his cousin, Sky Scholfield, 22, both of Redding. Having rung bells several times before, they knew some tricks of the trade.
“You get more money if you open doors for people,” Sage said, offering a polite “Merry Christmas” to a customer.
Adding a performance element also seems to draw positive attention, they said. A passerby joined them in whistling a Christmas carol during one shift. Scholfield, who braved Black Friday outside Wal-Mart, said he and his fellow ringers drummed on empty trashcans. The cousins used their bells as part of a wave and “robot” routine outside Penney’s this week.
Their efforts paid off. “One man told us, ‘All that boogying deserves a dollar,’” Scholfield said.
At ShopKo, Payne, 64, said she gets to see a lot of people she hasn’t seen in a while when she rings bells. “It’s for a really good cause,” she said.
She laughed as she recalled a busy shift where she automatically said, “Thank you, Merry Christmas, and God bless you” to a man who put money in her kettle, and he responded, “God bless you, too, Mom.”
“It was my son,” she said. “He’d grown a beard since the last time I saw him.”
Scholfield said that ringing bells is a good way for someone who tends toward shyness to engage with people. “It’s cool,” he said. “You always feel good after doing community service.”
Katie Riggins, 26, of Redding dropped some coins in Frank and Scholfield’s kettle after returning an item at Penney’s.
“Usually I just have my debit card, but when I have change I like to drop it in,” she said. “Especially at this time, everybody needs a little bit of help, especially those who don’t have much.”
Bell-ringing shifts are available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at multiple locations. Contact the Salvation Army at 222-2207 to learn more.
-Candace L. Brown rang bells in Boston, Mass., for several cold weeks as a college student. She has been a magazine and newspaper journalist since 1992. She lives in Redding and can be reached at email@example.com.
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