By Tom Carter in Charlotte, NC
To make a long story short, the reason I became a Christmas Kettle Worker (bellringer) for the Salvation Army in Minneapolis was to earn enough money to get back to Charlotte. I signed up Dec. 3rd and started two days later. No job interview, just two forms of ID and I was on! It’s no secret that many of the bellringers are paid, and furthermore, are residents at the Salvation Army homeless shelter.
It turned out to be the coldest December there in quite a few years. The average temperature for the month was 13 degrees Fahrenheit and there were a few nights that were a little below zero. I wore three coats and four pairs of socks with two plastic grocery bags between the socks.
I ended up ringing most of the time at a big box store called Fleet Farm, something like a Home Depot with guns. I wasn’t allowed to go inside at all for some reason. Before long I started taking off my red apron and sneaking into the restroom. It was mercifully located near the front door. Luckily I was blessed with a conscientious van driver that would pick me up about every two hours to warm up and get coffee.
Otherwise it was a great location with lots of foot traffic and thus donations, which is good for a job that is easily conducive to boredom. I swore more than once that it would be my last day. In fact, one morning I said “I quit!” right there in front of everybody. Then head honcho Envoy Miller himself stopped me, which felt good I must admit.
I bellrang for about 110 hours all told, so I became somewhat talented at ringing a small, annoying bell. I would do one-note versions of “Jingle Bells” quite a bit. A few times they left extra bells for families that were volunteering later during the day, so I would ring them all at once, up to five. This produced a nice sleighbell-like sound, and seemed to be mildly entertaining (if a bit cheesy).
It was interesting seeing people’s facial expressions. I remember one lady wordlessly putting money into the kettle with a look that I would describe as perceptive sympathy. Many thanked me for ringing, which felt good but uncomfortable since I was getting paid $8/hour. But I definitely “earned my keep.” One day, I noticed at least four $20’s go in. Somehow I worked every day minus one (when they had plenty of volunteers) ‘til the end of the campaign on Christmas Eve.