If you haven’t seen them, you may have heard the chiming of bells outside of shops all over town as the Salvation Army continues their annual bell ringing. Volunteers began ringing the bells outside of stores Nov. 13, and plan to continue until Christmas Eve.
Shannon Smithers, the special events and volunteer coordinator for the St. Cloud Salvation Army, says the holiday season is by far the busiest time of the year for the organization as a whole.
“People need Christmas toys for their children; we still have the shelter, the food shelf and all those things going on,” Smithers said. “We also have increased volunteers for bell ringing, people coming in to make meals for Christmas and Thanksgiving, along with everything else that we do all year round.”
Many programs are offered through the Salvation Army, but the kettles with people bell-ringing tend to snag many people’s attention.
The theory behind the Red Kettle campaign first began in 1891, when Salvation Army Captain Joseph McFee decided to do something to help poor individuals in San Francisco who were going hungry.
He was able to feed over 1,000 people by placing a pot that read, “Keep the Pot Boiling” outside the Oakland Ferry Landing. Those very first donations have transformed to help as many as 27,167,320 in the 2014 season.
Smithers says the St. Cloud location has over 2,000 volunteers throughout the entire year that come in to help with programs.
“Without the volunteers, we would not be able to do anything that we do. Because we are almost strictly volunteer ran. Other than a handful of employees, 90 percent of the people here are volunteers,” she said.
Out of the many volunteers, one in particular has been receiving a lot of attention lately.
Brett Denman is one bell ringer that makes the most out of the job by dressing up as characters during his time. Although he has also been the Grinch, Denman is most popularly known for being Olaf, the snowman from the Disney movie Frozen.
“I just love the atmosphere here and seeing all the kids come by. Everyone has a smile on their face, especially when I dress up, it’s great,” Denman said. “I just thought it would be something to give back to the community.”
“One little boy came just to see Olaf, he told me he had to have his mom stop to take a picture with Olaf. They said they’re going to use it for their Christmas card, that just made my day,” Denman said. “He put in $25, which he said was his allowance money. So that was awesome, and it goes for a great cause for the Salvation Army.”
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Last year alone, the organization raised just under $200,000 during the bell ringing season, which went towards providing shelter and food to local families in need.
One kettle in the Twin Cities recently received the largest donation recorded: $500,000. The Salvation Army says this number is 20 times larger than any other previous donation.The anonymous donor said they did it in hopes of encouraging others to give as generously as they can, too. Smithers said the donations made in each city stay within that city.
Seeing the results and watching people transform, which Smithers and Denman say is one of the best aspects of the job.
Smithers said, “We’ve had people leave the shelter and go into stable housing with their children. There are a lot of people in the community who are very grateful for what we do, and that’s really fun to see.”
Denman explained that you never know when you may need the Salvation Army. If you do, there are many local programs tailored to people’s needs.
The programs include:
- Food Shelf and free bread program
- Weekday lunch programs
- Emergency assistance
- Utility assistance – Heatshare program
- Emergency shelter
- Homeless veterans program
- Men’s and women’s ministries
- Youth ministries
- Backpacks and school supplies
- Warm coat program
- Tax preparation
- Christmas toy program
If you are interested in taking advantage of one of these programs or want to sign up online for volunteering, go to http://salvationarmynorth.org/community/st-cloud/.