EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - Tsu Wolin-Brown doesn't know what the Vail Valley Salvation Army would do without a community of kind and generous volunteers who help the nonprofit accomplish its mission every year.
Wolin-Brown, the Salvation Army's executive director, is especially grateful around the holiday season. As the sounds of bells ring in front of nearly every grocery store in the valley this month, she knows it's the sound of giving and the sound of the Salvation Army's ability to help people in need.
"This community is a blessing," Wolin-Brown said. "We could not do all the things we do without them."
The Vail Valley Salvation Army will celebrate its 30th anniversary in January, and the local bell ringing has been going on almost as long. Volunteers stand out in the cold in two-hour shifts and ring a bell, hoping the sound and their smiling faces encourage people to donate anything from spare pocket change to the kind of money that folds.
Wolin-Brown began volunteering at the Vail Valley Salvation Army the first year it opened. She volunteered for 21 years before becoming executive director nine years ago. She said there are many volunteers in this community who also give their time year after year.
Donna Giordano, a Vail Valley Foundation board member, is one of them. She has been volunteering since she moved to the valley permanently about nine years ago and said she absolutely loves it.
"You're giving back that small amount, but it is just a part of the Christmas holiday - it's part of the holiday tradition," Giordano said.
Giordano loves to see how many people she can get to contribute to the pot. She laughs about sometimes harassing the people she knows who walk by.
"I greet everybody when they come in and when they go out I just say to have a Merry Christmas," she said. "So many people thank you for doing it."
Jeanne Mosier is another volunteer who coordinates all of the bell ringing schedules. She said the turnout this year has been amazing.
"We make money when we have somebody ringing a bell," Mosier said. "There is such a need. Over 5,000 people came in (to the Vail Valley Salvation Army) last year looking for help."
Wolin-Brown said the bell ringers help bring in about 1/8 of the nonprofit's annual budget, or about $50,000. The volunteers who ring the bells bring in an average of $60 an hour, and Wolin-Brown is proud of how the organization spends it.
With just two full-time employees, Wolin-Brown estimates that 90 cents per every $1 donated goes toward helping people with everything from rent assistance to putting food on the table.
"People get a lot of bang for their buck when they donate here," Wolin-Brown said.
Wolin-Brown estimates that there about close to 1,000 bell ringers in the valley this holiday season working toward the cause to help people in need. The money raised will help pay for prescription medication, transportation, rent, food and utilities for families around the valley who have lost their jobs or are now under-employed.
"We provide emergency services and we hope to link people up with the means to become efficient," Wolin-Brown said.
In just her third winter living in the valley, Mosier is already one of the more dedicated volunteers because she believes in what the Salvation Army does. Mosier has been amazed at how great the local need is, even as the population has gotten smaller as a result of the recession.
Mosier said it's so uplifting to see those people - the people who need the help - also reach into their pockets to put change in the jars of the bell ringers.
"The people who give are from every aspect of life," Mosier said. "People who have received help are as generous as they can be, too."
Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.