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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

If you give, you get, this Christmas

I don’t have a surplus of cash to donate at Christmastime, or any time of year. I can’t afford to put a bill in the kettle every time I encounter a Salvation Army bell ringer. And yet, I have found a way to give to their worthy cause this Christmas. I donate my time.

It sounds quite charitable of me – standing beside a kettle between the drafty double doors at the grocery store for two hours at a time. In reality, I am the one who benefits. Being a bell ringer is the gift I give myself during the hectic pre-holiday season.

Where would you rather be – standing in line in a packed shopping mall, overheated under your winter coat, feet and head aching from the effort of searching for every last item on your gift list – or bopping along to Christmas music, jingle bells in hand, greeting smile after smile?

After several years volunteering as a bell ringer, I have developed a system. First, you find out where you will be situated. If it’s the local liquor store, they don’t always like you to ring your bells, but they do have their own holiday music playing, which helps put people in the giving mood.

If you are at the local grocery or hardware store you may find it helpful to bring your own portable Bluetooth speaker along. Select the random Christmas playlist on your smartphone Spotify app and Bingo! You are a mobile Christmas karaoke party.

If equipped with a set of jingle bells, I suggest you tap it on your leg as you would a tambourine. It’s pretty hard to ignore a woman standing in your path who is having her own little Christmas celebration. Bang your bells to the music, and watch how many passers-by join in with the song. If you have a good voice you may even attempt to sing along – it all depends on your environment. You aren’t busking, after all. But there are several inspiring videos online of Salvation Army bell ringers who have turned the practice of kettle work into performance art. Just Google “Christmas bell ringer” and you will find everything from charming carolers to choreographed dance routines.

Most people don’t realize that the annual six-week fundraising campaign executed by the Salvation Army just before Christmas funds most of their programming for the rest of the year. When you are asked to put some of your spare change in the kettle, you are contributing to the Christmas Hamper program, supporting community dinners, and providing toys for children who might not otherwise receive a gift this year. But you are also helping to fund programs for young moms, providing business attire for hopeful interviewees, and building an emergency fund to benefit those who have lost their homes to fire or other natural disasters.

Christmas is a high-stress time for many. It’s an intense pressure-cooker of emotions. When you ring the bells at a kettle, many of the people you meet may be current or future beneficiaries of the Salvation Army. They visit the food bank to feed their families – many of them for the first time. They turn to the organization for help when there is nowhere else to turn – and they get the help they need.

When I’m working the kettle, some people come up and tell me their own personal experiences with the Salvation Army. I’d say about 1 in 3 people will actually stop and put some money in the kettle. But very rarely does someone pass by without meeting my eye and saying something. I’m too flashy to ignore.

I’m wearing a green felt elf hat with bells on it. My sweater features a fuzzy white polar bear adorned with Christmas lights that actually flash and change colours. I’m harmonizing to the music, and jingling my bells to the beat. You can walk by me without putting money in the kettle. You don’t even have to wish me a Merry Christmas. But most of you will smile, and I will smile back.
Working the kettle is my gift to myself. I walk out of there after two hours, layered in smiles and well-wishes. By being there, I am helping the charity to receive an average $100 per hour – more than I could ever afford to give on my own. It feels great.

There is still time for you to give this awesome gift to yourself. Take a stress break from your Christmas preparations and man the kettle for a couple hours in your own neighbourhood.

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