Tri-City Salvation Army bell ringers proud to carry on tradition

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldNovember 24, 2012 

They're almost as much a part of the holiday landscape as Christmas trees and Santa Claus -- the red Salvation Army kettles greeting shoppers this time of year.

About two dozen are stationed at stores around the Tri-Cities, and many Tri-Citians know what it's like to drop in a dollar or two.

But what's it like to ring the bell that calls shoppers to give?

Well, for starters, it's cold.

At least it was Friday at the Richland Walmart, where Nathan Bower was set up. The 21-year-old Richland man, dressed head-to-toe in bright green and red, said he'll wear more layers for his next shift.

His teeth chattered as he thanked customers who slid coins or dollars into the kettle. But he couldn't keep the smile off his face; he enjoys his work as a bell-ringer, he said.

Bower is one of more than 100 people -- some paid, some volunteers -- who'll be manning kettles through Christmas Eve.

Almost all the money collected stays in the Tri-Cities, used to help the local Salvation Army cover everything from rent assistance for struggling families to Christmas gifts for needy kids. The goal this year is to raise $150,000 -- the same amount collected during last year's kettle drive, said Maj. Julio Vasquez.

Shoppers don't have to carry cash this year to contribute. They can text "IGIVE RICHLAND" to 80888 to donate $10, or use their smartphone to scan the code on the signs fixed above the kettles.

Bower, an active Salvation Army church member, is in his third year working as a bell-ringer. He helped get Erica Rogers a job; the 22-year-old Richland woman worked on the other side of the Walmart on Friday.

Like Bower, she was dressed in red and green. And she was cold.

"I'm freezing," she said with a shiver. But, "it's good," she added. "We're getting a lot of donations."

A man walked up and slipped in a $5 bill into the kettle. Rogers thanked him warmly.

Most shoppers who interact with the bell-ringers are nice, Bower said.

"The ones who aren't -- you try not to let it get to you," he said. He's had people act as if they're going to slip money into the kettle but then pull their hands back in a fake-out. People also have dropped in foreign currency or Monopoly money.

During about a half-hour Friday afternoon, there were plenty of smiles. Several children handed over donations.

Bower was wearing white tennis shoes partially colored with red and green markers. He said he'll continuing filling in the design as Christmas approaches.

And he'll start singing while he rings the bell. Last year, shoppers joined in on Christmas carols, he said.

"I do the extra things to make the kettles do better," Bower said. "The better they do, the more people we can help. This time of year, it's hard for some families to stay afloat.

I'm proud to be part of this."

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