By Michael Thompson, Contributing Writer
I never would have dreamed of being a Salvation Army bell-ringer. Then I received a writing assignment to ring a red-kettle bell for a day. As a shy person, there was much trepedation. But I went ahead and sucked it up.
You know what? Once I got started, it was fun. (Of course, it was an unseasonably mild December day, so it's not like I was out there getting frostbite.)
If your local Salvation Army is like mine in my Michigan hometown of Saginaw, you can pick your day(s) and your hours at your convenience starting around Thanksgiving.
When I received the writing assignment, I figured it would be good to glean some advice from a veteran. The Saginaw Salvation Army sent me out to see to see a man who became one of my heroes, Ted Kolhagen, who in recent years is dearly departed. What a guy! When I encountered him, he was 76 years old and in his 49th season of bell-ringing. He had an act where he would whistle and dance and clown around with anyone who approached the kettle, child or adult. And so I told my editor, Ted was far more interesting than anything I might write in the first person. To see the resulting article, look here: http://www.newreviewsite.com/articles/Profile---A-Whistling-Holiday-Bell-Ringer-Has-a-Deeper-Purpose-at-Heart/519.
Well, I still was bound to do my bell-ringing, even though I had chosen to write about Ted instead of myself. And so, armed with Ted's advice and examples, I was out there.
Ted's first rule was that "shy" is no excuse. If you just stand there and tinkle the bell, you're selling the program short. Indeed, Ted would bring in about $60 an hour, compared to about $20 for the listless bell-ringers whom The Salvation Army is forced to pay minimum wage because of a lack of volunteers. So I found myself out there shouting "ho-ho-ho" (I couldn't whistle like Ted, in spite of -- or because of -- the David Letterman gap in my front teeth.) One lady walked past the kettle and smirked, "Do you think that helps you?" But then a guy in professional business attire walked past, laughing, and jammed a folded $10-spot into the kettle. He laughed and said, "Those are some hearty ho-ho-hoes." And I said to myself, "Ted Kolhagen, you are vindicated." (Curious? I made $35 an hour.)
Two-liter pops were on sale in a big stack at the storefront, and people were grabbing 'em up, and so I stole another lesson from Ted and slid the kettle over near the pops. Sure enough, donations increased. It was like, the customers were contributing the money they saved on the pop discount.
Then a woman walked by, like so many folks, with her nose up in the air. Her checkbook fell out of her purse. "Ma'am," I called out. She thanked me when I returned the checkbook, and, feeling guilty, stuck a pair of dollar bills through the slot.
The Salvation Army assigned me to a pair of places for half-day shifts. At the Kmart in the low-income neighborhood, I got a regular stream of donations -- no big ones, but a bunch. But in front of the high-rent Macy's, most people ignored me, although that's where I got the fin from the guy who laughed as my ho-ho-hoeing. I'm not making any comment here, just passing on what I experienced.
Readers: Consider an experiment in volunteer bell-ringing. You won't know whether this fits you until, and unless, you try it.
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