Salvation Army lets U-B writer be belle of the ball

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When I got the press release saying the Salvation Army needed bell ringers, it struck a chord with me.

On this end, reporters have been instructed to produce a "significant piece of work for the Web site" on a regular basis. Part of an emphasis to make our newspaper more interactive, highlight stories best told online and add one more thing to reporters' plates.

Oh, sorry -- did I write that out loud?

That work can encompass any number of ideas, but so far it's meant producing a video for most of us.

So, I think, maybe I should go out for a spell of bell ringing and try my hand at a video version of my twice-monthly column, knocking over two snowmen with one snowball.

I started my shift -- I could only commit to three hours instead of the more typical four -- with some preconceived narcissism. I would be the best bell ringer ever! I would be a beacon of Christmas light, compelling people to give, my bell a melodic reminder to share.

Those to-ing and fro-ing at Super 1 Foods would fight their way to the red kettle in order to drop in a donation, I thought, rifling through my teen's closet for the Santa hat.

The folks at the Salvation Army office in Walla Walla were surprisingly easy to convince. Usually there are a few levels of management to wade through for this sort of request, but director Tomas Gonzalez gave my idea the nod immediately.

Likely staff there is up for anything that will help. Last Christmas, the national organization made a move to stop hiring bell ringers as seasonal workers and rely on an army of volunteers instead. Less money taken right out of the kettles for payroll, Social Security and taxes, more of the limited dollars going right to the roots of the mission.

Which sounds noble, sound, fiscally responsible and all that, but also means a mad scramble to convince people to help bring in the cash.

I know it sounds crass, but there it is ... the truth beyond the slogans. The Salvation Army helps families in this area all year long because need knows no season. Christmas, however, is the perhaps the most public highlight.

More than ever, noted Ret. Major William Dickinson. He's been with the Salvation Army since 1945 and looks impossibly young for that to be so.

Dickinson grew up in Walla Walla and has been on board at the office here to help with the holiday pressure. And pressure it is, as the organization strives to assist the rising tide of those unable to provide their families with toys and food for Christmas.

So, yeah, they said. OK, come on down and ring the bell.

You can see a collapsed three hours on tape on the Union-Bulletin's Web site, www.union-bulletin.com.

I look every bit as bad as I feared. I got a little cranky and a lot of frozen, but there you have it ... my firsthand experience as -- ta da DA!! -- Saver of the World and I wasn't exactly Wonder Woman.

I was thirsty, a bit bored now and again, and did I mention, very cold?.

It wasn't even all especially Popsicle-y out there and I did dress in layers, but all I could dream of was a hot bath as I drove out of the market's parking lot.

Once I got a few miles down the road, however, the minivan's heater helped me gain perspective. For some minor discomfort and three hours of my day, I had a direct impact on people's lives. How often can you say that of a little volunteer time, no monetary outlay and no forms to fill out?

And, I don't mind saying, the goal I set to bring in $75 on my shift was exceeded by $10 dollars. Ring that bell, baby.

To see my whining, go to www.ubvideo.tv. To sign up for some Christmas magic of your own, call 509-529-9470. Get your neighbors on board, your church, your P.T.A. Create a competition and I'll post the results on my blog at blogs.ublabs.org/fromthestorageroom.

The money put in the red kettles stays here in this Valley, meaning we are helping our own neighbors. Which means we're helping ourselves. That's worth a few hours of ting-a-ling, right?

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or at blogs.ublabs.org/fromthestorageroom or by calling 509-526-8322.

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