Though the bell ringers have seen how hard the recession has hit the local community, they are surprised at the amount of giving they witness.
“It always amazes me,” said Fred Galloway, a Waynesville bell ringer. “The harder the times are, the more generous the people are.”
“No matter what the economy is, the people that wanna give will give anyway,” said Sammy Fowler, kettle coordinator for the Salvation Army’s WNC branch. “It’s the people who have the least that give most.”
One of Western North Carolina’s most successful bell ringers, Galloway has volunteered as a bell ringer for the past 11 years.
While most volunteers ring for two hours, Galloway signs up for five or six hours at a time.
“I was built for cold weather,” said Galloway.
Good long johns and a heavy coat usually do the trick, says Galloway, who admits that piling on all that winter wear makes him look like an Eskimo sometimes.
Galloway says he thoroughly enjoys bell ringing, partly because it provides ample time for people watching.
Once in a while, Galloway is approached by old soldiers who were helped by the Salvation Army after coming off the battlefield.
“They get very emotional,” said Galloway.
Galloway volunteers on behalf of his church in Waynesville, and he never forgets to say a warm-hearted “God bless you” to every person who donates.
“I like the opportunity to stand here and bless people,” said Galloway. “It doesn’t matter if they donate a penny or $20, everyone gets a blessing.”
Linda Arnold, a bell ringer at Belk, says she enjoys catching up with the many friends she encounters while on duty.
“It’s part of my season,” said Arnold, who volunteers as a bell ringer for the Altrusa organization in Waynesville.
Fowler admits that he was at first reluctant about becoming a bell ringer.
“First, I thought it was kind of corny,” said Fowler. “I didn’t want to ring a bell. I was ashamed, a little embarrassed to do it.”
But Fowler soon realized everybody from bankers to policemen volunteered as bell ringers for the Salvation Army.
“If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me,” said Fowler, who has served as kettle coordinator for the past seven years.
Bell ringers have a plethora of strategies when it comes to fundraising for the Salvation Army, according to Fowler.
They can simply say hello and smile at passersby.
They can call in the help of elementary school children, who sometimes dress up in reindeer costumes and sing holiday classics.
They can even play musical instruments like trumpets. The less musically-inclined have the option of bringing along a tape player to play Christmas music instead, Fowler said.