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A Salvation Army Christmas

Preparations begin early for the holiday season.

by Kim Warriner, Cadet

Once again we are entering the busiest time of year in The Salvation Army. But Christmas doesn’t wait until December to bring its hustle and bustle; it starts in October for most of us in the Army.

The time has come to reopen the musty closets and line up the kettle stands into formations like proud soldiers, ready to go to war against hunger and poverty. Rusty spots and scratched lids show battle wounds from seasons past, while a half peeled Wal-Mart smiley sticker graces the side of one noble kettle. There is no mistaking their call and purpose; they are the icons that welcome in the holidays, store by store, year after year, decade upon decade.

Even in all their bright red glory, the kettles are not fully equipped for the task at hand. A box rattles out of the closet with the muffled tinkling sound of eager helpers ready to inspire or annoy the public into charitable offerings. These bells have seen better days. Some have lost their clackers and produce only quiet ting-a-lings with their makeshift paperclips wired in place. Others clank with mighty authority from the giant bolt clackers hurriedly placed there by desperate bell ringers. Several bells are rusty except for a shiny spot along the inner rim where the clacker has hit over and over throughout the Christmas rush.

Another box is pulled out. Red aprons spring forth from the tightly closed container as if they have been awaiting their day of parole. Adrenaline and anticipation send a thumping sound into my ears. I am the commander of this mighty army. I wear my title proudly. I am the Kettle Coordinator, and for the first time, I will send out the troops and prepare them for the days ahead.

Interview upon interview, I put a lot of thought into who I will hire. Many applicants need extra Christmas money. Some have been out of work for months. Others are there as a way of giving back to society. I interview them all. I hire them based on their smiles and enthusiasm. English is not a prerequisite, because a smile speaks louder than words. Choosing is not an easy task; so many desperately need the job. I pray and ask God for guidance to make the right choices.

The lucky job seekers are called and instructed to come back for orientation. If they don’t return on time, they’re put on the reserve list because punctuality is vital. They are welcomed at the door with a packet of papers so thick it nearly takes the whole season just to get them all signed—that is why we start in October!

Most of the bell ringers have done this before. As well seasoned veterans they have preferences about which stores they like and whether they ring inside or outside. Some bring years of experience, knowing what works and what doesn’t. I leave a lot up to them, as this is a source of accomplishment for these often overlooked folks. They take pride in what they do, and I make sure they are treated with dignity, respect and appreciation throughout the season. I make my rounds handing out gloves and hats on cold days, making sure they are as comfortable as they can be as they stand for hours, listening to their bells ring, day in and day out.

Bell ringers have their own styles and techniques of ringing. Some ring high out in front of them, while others ring subtly at their sides. Some play instruments, and others sing. I appreciate them all because if not for these people standing out in the cold during this time of year, The Salvation Army might not have the funds to assist those in need with food boxes, clothing, and emergency vouchers. Without these kettle workers who are willing to give up their nights and weekends, we wouldn’t be able to give the public what they have come to love and expect…that annoying ringing of the bells.

I am proud of my motley crew of rusted kettle stands and bell ringers of every description. What a fulfilling Christmas season! I am exhausted every day, I stay up late each night counting money, and I start every morning delivering cold metal kettles to their stands. It is not the normal holiday season I am accustomed to, but I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world.

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