The Auburn Branch of the Salvation Army began its bell ringing campaign on the eve of Thanksgiving,l but is struggling to staff local locations. The church,which patterns its operation like a military unit, relies on donations and volunteers during the holidays.
“It’s our primary fundraiser for the year,” said Maj. Ralph Jimenez of the Auburn Salvation Army.
The church says it’s tried to increase donation options for increasing numbers of donors who don’t carry cash. The sign above their kettles now have a scan code and a text donation option. But it still relies heavily on cash donations attracted by bell ringing volunteers.
While volunteers for the church’s food distribution and Thanksgiving dinner aren’t so much of a problem, getting volunteers for the two hour bell ringing stints at local businesses is more challenging.
It’s not a problem for Fred Relaford, a retiree who manned the iconic red Salvation Army donation kettle outside the Bel Air supermarket in Auburn. He rings a bell four days a week during the holidays even though he once thought bell ringers came just from the ranks of the Salvation Army church.
“Baptists don’t ring bells for the Salvation Army. Then my Sunday school teacher said she rang, then I thought..me too,” said Relaford.
Donations were plentiful from Thanksgiving grocery shoppers as Relaford rang his cowbell. He greeted several long-time friends as well as regular donors he sees each year. He especially likes to interact with children, offering them a mint after they put change into the kettle.
Relaford says his biggest donation was a check for $800 one year. He’s collected a number of checks for over $100. He says it’s nice to know that the money stays in the community and not just for holiday food programs.
“Rent, utilities, we try to do as much emergency services as we can with the money that is raised,” said Maj. Ralph.
He also said bell ringing volunteers come from all walks of life and often from civic minded organizations who support Salvation Army programs.
“A lot of them are different Rotary clubs, Kiwanis clubs, different services clubs throughout the community. Just people in the community who just want to get a helping hand,” said Maj. Ralph.
The connection to his town and neighbors is what drives Relaford, who has collected a bag full of different bells he’s acquired over the years. He showed off a delicate bell he found at a thrift store imprinted with the words “love is the nicest gift of all.”
Relaford can’t exactly pinpoint why he is a bell ringer.
“Maybe it’s giving back, I don’t know. I can’t live in this community without being a part of it,” he eventually said.
Right now the Salvation Army could use more bell ringers like Fred Relaford. Those wishing to volunteer can contact their local Salvation Army office.