Photo by JC Amberlyn.
KINGMAN – By now you’re (hopefully) enjoying Christmas, and if you’ve stashed money in a red Salvation Army kettle, others less fortunate are, too.
Kingman Salvation Army Director Troy Palmer dished out the lowdown on the bell ringers and exactly what those red kettles put back into local charity. Not only in cash, but Christmas spirit.
“It’s fun, it’s part of the season,” he said.
The idea started in 1891 when Salvation Army Capt. Joseph McFee was looking for a way to feed the poor during the holiday season in San Francisco. To raise money, he placed an empty soup kettle with a sign that read, “Keep the Pot Boiling.” He soon had the money and a tradition that spread across the world.
Local bell ringers are a combination of paid Salvation Army employees and volunteers. The volunteers include everyone from businesses and organizations (such as Kingman Regional Medical Center, Martin Swanty Chrysler Jeep Dodge, the Boys and Girls Club of Kingman and the school districts). There are numerous individuals and groups of volunteers who return each year and new volunteers taking a stand – literally – for the first time.
“It’s a diverse group of people,” Palmer said. “Some people just want to try it out.”
The ringers work 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in two hour shifts. There are kettles at Walmart, Smith’s, Bashas’, both Walgreens and both Safeway stores. Word spreads when newbies take selfies and post them to social media. It helps when volunteers bring friends and sometimes even music. Cheery attitudes carry inside the businesses with the harried shoppers. Palmer added that the volunteer opportunity helps put people in the spirit when they otherwise might not be.
“I get calls from more people wanting to do it,” he said. “If (the bell ringers) have fun, the people around them will have fun.”
He admits some volunteers don’t always enjoy the experience. A combination of constant standing, chilly weather and bad attitudes can be a downer.
“It’s an easy job when people are nice,” he said. “It’s not so easy when people aren’t nice. All you can do at the end of the day is say, ‘Merry Christmas.’”
The paid employees are seasonal part-time and get paid out of the donations. Sometimes they have to fill in the gaps when volunteers can’t make their slot. Other full-time employees are back at the main office on 1200 E. Andy Devine Ave. (towards the bottom of El Trovatore hill) packing food boxes, running the thrift store and helping Palmer keep the organization running.
Nearly $30,000 has been raised by Salvation Army bell ringers this season (which runs between the day after Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve). That money covers utilities for the office and employee payroll, and food, clothes, and emergency services for whoever has needs. What gets donated here, stays here.
“It’s important to understand that whatever money is raised stays in this community,” Palmer said. That doesn’t just include the Kingman zip code. He reaches out to Golden Valley, Chloride, Dolan Springs, Meadview and Peach Springs.
The money raised in the weeks leading up to Christmas shows the community isn’t stingy. Even though it’s too late to volunteer for 2016, Palmer said this is his time to thank the community.
“By in large, people are giving. They’re supportive,” he said. “Without the money, we wouldn’t be here.”
Various bell ringers were interviewed Friday. Despite the frantic and frustrated pace of last minute shoppers, the ringers kept their composure.
This was the first year volunteering for 17-year-old Kingman High School senior Dominic Soto, ringing the bell in front of Walgreens on the corner of Stockton Hill Road and Andy Devine Avenue.
“Getting out of the house is good,” he said of one reason he volunteers. “This is a good way to expand out to the community.”
The job isn’t always peaches and cream. He’s no fan of the chilly weather and wasn’t shy dishing on bad parts of the gig. He recently had a woman yell at him because the ATM in the store was broken.
“She said ‘Ho-Ho-Merry (expletive) Christmas,” he said.
Volunteer Art Swanson was blowing Christmas jingles on his trombone in front of Walmart. The 59-year-old was pulling his fourth year of kettle duty. He can see the facial expressions change between the parking lot and the front door.
“People come in, they smile. They’re happy,” he said. “Especially when I play.”
He didn’t want to get too much into the weird zone when talking about the odd parts of the job. People mostly put money into the kettle, but sometimes try other ways to contribute.
“Gift cards don’t fit,” he said.
Seasonal Salvation Army employee 21-year-old Sara LeBlanc (on the other side of Walmart) was the peppiest of the bunch. This is her second year and she was enjoying every second chatting with the customers – the social aspect she enjoys the most.
“I get to meet people and see friends I haven’t seen in a while,” she said
Volunteer Kathy Schall, 59, was dressed in full elf costume, ears and all. This was her first year. She’s switched up costumes a few times for smiles – from ugly sweater day to ‘I Love NY’ sweater and beanie.
“I like coming out and being cheered by everyone I see,” she said.
To volunteer at the Salvation Army (through the year or next Christmas season) contact Palmer at 928-718-2600.