11/16/09 — Salvation Army ready for ringing

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Salvation Army ready for ringing

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on November 16, 2009 1:46 PM

With less than two weeks to go, the Salvation Army has started to enlist its volunteer bell ringers for the holiday season.

And before the first coin has even been dropped into a bucket, it looks as if there will be plenty of needs to be met.

"We have already interviewed 400 families to serve," Maj. Andrew Wiley said. "It's always a shot in the dark this early on, but we'll probably have 450 families -- it's toys for the children, a Christmas dinner, some will get both."

Every application is carefully reviewed to determine the most needy, he said.

"We look at what are the factors contributing -- job loss or medical crisis -- we weigh what are their resources, (such as) maxing out on food stamps. It's not just a blanket, 'everybody gets a food box.' We look at what we know we need to do based on those that have come to us," Wiley said.

And in many cases, it will all come down to the fundraising effort, which means those familiar bell ringers stationed around the county collecting donations.

"We try to make the most we can of that," Wiley said.

Much of the Salvation Army's budget centers around money brought in between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

"We operate in good faith that by the time we reach the end we will receive what we needed," he said.

Their bottom line is very simple, Wiley says.

"We just don't like to think of a child not having something on Christmas morning," he said.

And so, without any inkling as to how much might be generated from the upcoming season, his staff has begun looking for deals to stretch every dollar.

"We are already doing our toy buying, wholesale to get the best deals," he said.

Of course, toys are also among the items that might be donated to the Salvation Army. Hopefully new ones, he notes.

"One of my pet peeves is getting used toys," he said. "You want your child to have a nice new toy on Christmas morning. That other child deserves it, too."

It's also important to ensure that families can share a nice Christmas meal, one that they can prepare themselves.

"Not that they can't congregate somewhere to get a dinner," he explained. "But for some it's a pride issue. They don't want anyone to know that they have had to ask for help."

It's a good feeling to know that the holidays have been brightened for those who need it, Wiley said.

"We get a lot of situations of waking up on Christmas morning, knowing that children wake up with something on Christmas, or sitting down to Christmas dinner, knowing that those families have those same things," he said.

Above and beyond putting aside extra change for the kettle drive, though, there are other ways to contribute to the Salvation Army, Wiley said.

"For some it's picking up a stocking and filling it, writing a check, giving their time to ring the bell," he said. "We will also have some Angel trees around the county (with gift suggestions for families). There's a lot of different ways that folks can choose what best works for them."

Make no mistake, though, bell ringing is still critical to getting the word out, Wiley said. And that means volunteers to man the posts.

"We have around 12 locations," he said. "If we can't find enough people, we have to pay them and of course, minimum wage has gone up."

Plus, that would defeat the purpose -- and cut into the profits -- if bell ringers walk away with a cut of the pot.

Ideally, groups will sign on to assist with shifts, Wiley said. That usually works out well, as duties can be shared.

What doesn't work as well are individuals who say they can only give an hour.

"Just because of the logistics," Wiley said. "Instead, we'll try to get people to share the time -- do an evening, invite a friend or neighbor to come with you."

Among their strongest volunteers have been the Golden K Kiwanis.

"They ring for us at K-Mart every Saturday for the season," Wiley said. "They'll rotate and they always partner so they're not in there by themselves."

Ollie Toomey, a member of the Golden K's, has been one of those volunteers through the years.

"We have a long history," he said of the club. "Salvation Army is in need. We have done it, we have really done exceptionally well.

"We're not a money-making club, but will raise money for the Salvation Army."

With more than 70 members, Voight Pritchard, who is chairman of the Kiwanis committee of volunteers for the holiday effort, estimated that about 50 or more will work during the four Saturdays over the holiday period.

Even more impressive, he noted, considering their ages -- the oldest member is 97, the youngest around 55.

"We're all senior citizens but we like to contribute. We don't even bring any of the money home," Toomey said with a chuckle.

Not that the job is without challenges, he said.

"You ring the bell and we see a lot of things -- we see human nature at work," he said. "But we're always overwhelmed at the donations every year and that the people are willing to ring the bell.

"It's a good thing and we have always supported the Salvation Army."

Other area civic clubs also help out, providing volunteers at other locations, said Pritchard, who said the Kiwanis plan to change things up a bit this season.

"We're going a new route. A lot of our members are elderly. That being the case we're going to try this year having some people on one-hour shifts. We have been putting on two-hour shifts," he said. "It may be hard. We haven't tried it yet.

"It's not that bad having two-hour shifts but in the course of a day you may have seven, eight hours, so you're going to have to come up with 16 people during the course of the day."

Winter weather can also complicate things.

"We try to stay out of the cold and K-Mart has a glass enclosure between the two doors and we hope they'll allow us to stay in out of the weather," Pritchard said.

Despite that, being bell ringers not only ushers in another fundraising drive for the Salvation Army, but the true meaning of the season.

"We enjoy it and it gets us all in the Christmas spirit," Pritchard said.

"I think a lot of years we have been able to do this by putting our own contribution in there and K-Mart being a good location. But it gets us in a good frame of mind during the holidays. We enjoy doing it and I hope we're doing a good job. We feel like we are."