By BOB LEWIS
Linda Smith and Carol Hunt have wished total strangers “A Very Merry Christmas” more times than they can remember during their years of volunteer service as Salvation Army Red Kettle bell ringers.
That’s a level of holiday cheer even old Kris Kringle would be proud of. But both women say they are not finished yet. Once again, Smith is part of the volunteer team from Broken Arrow’s Church of the Nazarene while Hunt works with members of the Broken Arrow YFR 4-H Club.
Both organizations are part of a yuletide tradition that dates back to 1891 when Salvation Army Captain Joseph McFee resolved to provide a free Christmas dinner for destitute and poverty-stricken people in San Francisco. He only had one major hurdle to overcome: how to pay for the project.
Thinking back to his days as a sailor in Liverpool, England, he remembered Stage Landing, where the boats came in, and an iron kettle called “Simpson’s Pot” into which passers-by tossed a coin or two to help the poor. That inspired him to place a similar kettle at the Oakland Ferry Landing at the foot of Market Street.
It didn’t take long for McFee to receive the funds needed to fulfill his dream and for one of the most endearing symbols of Christmas to be born. His idea quickly spread across the country and then the world providing money that enables the Salvation Army to aid millions of people.
Sadly, officials expect the call for these services to climb sharply this year, primarily because of the impact of COVID-19 and high unemployment rates – all while the number of red kettles in place and donations collected decline.
At the heart if this dilemma, they say, are fewer retail stores in operation and huge increases in online shopping that have taken a toll on foot traffic at many traditional locations. All that being the case, both Smith and Hunt say they are more convinced than ever of the importance of the job their teams do.
“It is an honor to be part of the Salvation Army. It is such a great organization that does so many wonderful things for people,” they agree.
Smith notes bell ringers represent a true cross-section of caring and dedicated people from across the community. An example of their commitment, she said, was typified by a deceased member of her church team, an elderly gentleman who never missed a scheduled time to tend his red kettle and ring his bell, despite failing health and being confined to a wheelchair.
Pointing to a different demographic, Hunt says 4-H Club members ranging in age from nine to 18 “bring so much energy to this program, it is truly amazing.” They also bring a sleigh full of creativity, as evidenced the year they discovered that no bell had been left at their assigned kettle. No problem. One of the youngsters simply rushed home, got his trumpet, and played holiday music throughout the shift.
Both women take special delight in seeing families approach their kettles so the children can step forward to drop in their contributions.
“Their excitement and the smiles on their faces knowing they are helping other people is so special,” they said. “This is what Christmas is all about.”
How To Be a Bell Ringer
Are you looking to give the gift of time to impact the lives of your neighbors in need? Register to ring a Red Kettle bell this holiday season.
You, your family, friends or colleagues can ring traditionally in front of retailers, or the Salvation Army has a new Virtual Red Kettle option for those who prefer to host an online kettle instead.
While the emphasis is on helping people in need, veteran ringers say the experience is one of the most rewarding times of the holiday season. To learn more, visit www.salarmytulsa.org.