Last year, Jim Minyard’s Sunday school class at Fairview Baptist Church earned the distinction of raising the most money as bell-ringers for the Columbus Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign.
He intends to keep it that way.
Minyard, 77, organizes the bell-ringer roster for the Billy Bozeman Sunday school class, made up of men age 60 and older. Last year, his class volunteered to ring the bell in front of Wal-Mart on Highway 45 for four days, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The class raised $3,500, beating out the Columbus Rotary Club ($3,200), and members expect to eclipse that mark this year. Four other Sunday school classes from Fairview also volunteer to ring the bell but none with the enthusiasm of the Billy Bozeman bunch.
“We added another day this year so we hope we can do even better,” Minyard said. “It’s an opportunity to minister, but we enjoy doing it. It’s a lot of fun.”
Major Alan Phillips, who coordinates the Red Kettle campaign for the Columbus Corps of the Salvation Army is grateful for, though not surprised with, the infectious quality associated with being a bell-ringer.
“What I have noticed everywhere we have been doing this over the years is that if you do it once, you’re pretty much hooked,” Phillips said. “It’s hard to explain, the feeling you get. The things you see, the people you encounter. It’s just a special experience.”
New year, new goal
Last year, the Columbus Red Kettle campaign collected a net $56,000. Because there are not enough volunteers to man the 12 Red Kettle locations, some paid bell-ringers are required.
“We raised $68,000 but paid out $12,000 for wages,” Phillips said. “This year, we hope to raise $75,000 and get the salary down to $9,000. If we do that, we’ll bring in $10,000 more than we did last year. Hopefully, we’ll make that goal.”
Nationally, the Red Kettle campaign hopes to raise $2.5 million, but the money raised in each area stays “at home,” Phillips said.
“It’s used to buy toys, food and to get us through the winter months, which is the time of year that there is the greatest demand for what we do,” Phillips said. “It’s far and away our biggest fund-raising project of the year.”
This year, the campaign began a week before Black Friday at three locations, with another nine locations starting the day after Thanksgiving. Bell-ringers work from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day except Sundays and will continue until the kettles are collected for the last time at 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve.
The logistics of keeping all those bell-ringer slots filled is no small effort, Phillips said.
“You’re talking about well over 1,000 hours we need to fill,” he said. “Over the years, we’ve built up a list of groups of individuals who do it every year. But every year, we still need more volunteers.”
Phillips said about 60 percent of the bell-ringers this year are volunteers.
Although the goal is to move toward a higher percentage of volunteer bell-ringers, Phillips admitted he is a bit conflicted on that.
For most of the paid bell-ringers, it provides an income they might not otherwise have, which is consistent with the Salvation Army’s mission, Phillip said.
On the other hand, paid bell-ringers do negatively affect the bottom line.
“Our paid bell-ringers work the entire day, which means that they have to collect $60 before any of the money they collect comes to us,” Phillip said. “That’s why it’s important to have as many volunteers as we can find.”
Phillips said some progress toward that goal has been made. Two locations have been staffed completely by volunteers, he said. Four companies donated $1,000 each — money that can be used to pay workers, if needed — so the money that goes in the kettle winds up with the Salvation Army.
With just nine days remaining before the campaign ends on Christmas Eve, Phillips is still taking calls and soliciting volunteers.
“I got 12 calls (Wednesday) from 10 individuals and two groups asking to volunteer,” Phillips said. “The answer is always yes. That’s really true for the last week before Christmas when there are fewer people who volunteer, and we wind up using paid bell-ringers a lot more.”
Groups can volunteer to ring the bell for as little as four hours. An individual’s commitment is at least two hours.
To volunteer, call Phillips at 662-327-5137, extension 202.
Today, Minyard and his fellow Sunday school members will take their stations for the fifth time.
“We’ve got 18 guys scheduled,” Minyard said. “We’re old guys, so we don’t ask anybody to ring more than an hour. Fortunately, we have a big class, so we don’t ever have a problem getting all those times filled. We even have some spares — members who have said they’ll fill in if somebody can’t make it.
“We don’t have any problems getting enough people,” he added. “The guys really enjoy standing out there and wishing everybody a Merry Christmas. We just couldn’t pass that up.”
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.