Daily photo by John Godbey|
Daily reporter Bayne Hughes, through no fault of his own, braved the cold to be a Salvation Army bell-ringer at the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Decatur last week. Dana Stewart made a donation upon leaving the store during Hughes' chilly hour in the bell-ringing trenches.
Confessions of a holiday bell-ringer
Despite chill, ringing is worth it because of those it helps
By Bayne Hughes
I looked at my editor and asked, "Do you know how cold it is going to be?"
"Don't care," she said.
I switched tactics.
"I've got a meeting to cover an hour before you want me at Wal-Mart."
"Leave the meeting 15 minutes early," she said.
"You're going to owe me," I said.
"You've got Christmas week off, haven't you?" she replied.
Christmas off. The big club.
That's how Thursday, the coldest day of the fall, I became part of the 105-year-old national tradition as a bell-ringer in the Salvation Army's Red Kettle campaign. The Decatur Daily staff divided an 11-hour day into one-hour slots at the Wal-Mart Supercenter.
I asked Valerie Coan, director of homeless services, how they use the money that people stuff into the kettles. Last year, local ringers collected about $45,000. This year the goal is $60,000, with people ringing the bell 11 hours a day at 20 locations in Decatur, Athens, Hartselle and Moulton.
Coan sent me a three-page list that included homeless programs and social services such as providing clothing, utility payments, medication assistance and disaster relief. The money funds the Angel Tree program, family food boxes and financial assistance for those in need during the Christmas holidays.
The money I collected helps those in need during the holidays and beyond.
When I saw the list, it made me feel better about my editor volunteering me. It takes a tough reporter to ring a little red bell from noon to 1 p.m. with the temperature at 41 degrees and the windchill at 31 because wind gusts were 25 mph. It helps knowing that it's all for a good cause. The wind made standing still difficult.
I tried to keep my feet moving, but I didn't have much room. If I took a step to the right, the store's automatic doors opened and store employees complained because the door wouldn't stay closed.
My editor and I had debated on whether to shift my time from the lunch hour to dinner hour because we wanted to make sure to have a steady flow of patrons during my time.
We shouldn't have worried. Wal-Mart is never really slow.
Most hurried from their vehicles to the store, wincing against the stinging nettles of the arctic blast. A few smiled or said hello. Most tried to ignore my existence. I tried to give everyone a smile and even a compliment, when they would allow it. Most were in too much of a hurry to get out of the cold to even hesitate. One older woman went into the store and called to me from just inside the door to get her money.
About 20 people hurriedly contributed money during my hour. Most didn't want to stop long enough to chat, shoving a handful of coins or several bills quickly into the slot. It was so cold my dad wouldn't even stop to talk to me.
I fussed and complained when I returned to the office about how cold it was, but I'm glad I did my little part. As Coan said, bell ringing is an easy way to make a contribution, if you have no money or just a little bit of time to give. It's also a great service project for businesses, churches, civic clubs and other groups.
The campaign runs through Dec. 23, and the Salvation Army needs more ringers. Coan said they schedule ringers for 9 a.m. until 8 p.m., six days a week, except Sundays.
She said people rarely place money in unmanned kettles, so she would like to fill every available slot so the bell is never silent.
Besides, this is Alabama and, if you don't like the weather, stick around a day or two. For example, today's temperature is to ease into the 60s. Now there's no excuse not to volunteer.
Call to volunteer
The Salvation Army is holding its annual Red Kettle campaign. The organization needs more volunteers to ring the bell before the campaign ends Dec. 23. Call 353-2822 to volunteer.
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