BY ED GEBERT

Times Bulletin Editor

egebert@timesbulletin.com

VAN WERT - Not noticing them is difficult. The ringing of the bell by Salvation Army volunteers as you enter or exit grocery stores or department draws attention. You know why the bells are ringing. It's fund-raising time for the organization that does a great deal to help those less fortunate in the community.
Amy Bennett is one of the numerous volunteers who spend time in the rain, the snow, the wind, and the cold ringing the bell. Originally, from Van Wert, Bennett just began volunteering this year for the Salvation Army after moving back to the area from Memphis, Tennessee.

"This is something to give back to the community, she explained. "When I lived in Memphis, Tennessee, I helped out the humane society, and several no-kill shelters there. Since I've been up here this has been fun."

Bennett said that even though it may look like a boring task, bell-ringing is far from it.

"It's constantly busy, so there's no time to get bored," Bennett said. "I enjoy seeing the kids and all the people who come through."

Many volunteers ring the bell for the Salvation Army in Van Wert. Bell-ringers are deployed at supermarkets and department stores in town. Salvation Army Maj. Arthur Barter said that the volunteers are not placed at the same spot every day, which helps keep the surroundings fresh for the volunteers.

A typical week for Bennett is 20-30 hours of ringing the bell, smiling, and wishing a Merry Christmas to folks as they pass by. The stay-at-home mother of one child and three step-children has no special agenda as she acknowledges the shoppers who come and go.

"I'm just trying to be myself, say hi to everybody, tell them thank you, have a good day, good evening, good morning, she shared. "There are a few of the same people who come back, but there's a lot of different people coming in and out."

She revealed that when someone stuffs a bill or come change into the red kettle, she is not really interested in the amount deposited.

Bennett admitted, "I usually don't pay attention. What they give, they give. It's between them and God... But I do see more of the people that I know in the community who are lower income, they tend to give more than the people who are more fancy and dressed well. That's what it seems like anyway."

Donations locally in the red kettles this year are running behind last year's numbers. Barter noted that it has nothing to do with the generosity of local shoppers, but simply is an effect of the new agreement between the giant retailer Walmart and the Salvation Army. Under the new deal, accepted in the 50th year of cooperation between the agency and the corporation, the bell-ringers are not allowed to solicit until after Thanksgiving. That put the campaign behind right from the start. However Barter fully expects the totals to increase to near the 2011 mark, especially with the addition of another location in Van Wert this year.

From her perspective, Bennett is impressed by the number of people who stop to drop a donation into the kettle.

"I think it's about one out person of every four or five or so who gives something," she estimated. "There are quite a few... Fridays and Saturdays are usually good, but I worked last night and there were people coming and going, but they weren't dropping anything. That's normal."

Many people devote some time during the holidays to taking a turn with the bell and the red kettle. Not everyone puts in 20-30 hours a week. In fact, some may just take an hour or two one day to help out. But whether short-term or long-term, Bennett has some simple advice for Salvation Army bell-ringers:

"Dress warm, have a smile on your face, and just be nice and courteous to everyone."