Derek Franz

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December 19, 2012
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Dedicated ringers

"Be the change you wish to see in the world."

That's a simplified version of a Gandhi quote but it applies literally to the Salvation Army bell ringers, who stand for hours in winter weather, encouraging donations of spare change by ringing a bell.

Every coin helps. Money dropped into the red kettles stays in the region where it's donated and accounts for an eighth of Vail Valley Salvation Army's annual budget, said the organization's director, Tsu Wolin-Brown.

"Bell ringing brings in an average of $60 an hour," Wolin-Brown said.

Bell ringers volunteer for two-hour shifts, and each one clearly makes a difference. Some people have donated their time for years. The Enterprise tracked down a few of the standouts in western Eagle County but this feature is dedicated to everyone devoted to "change."

"The real heroes are the people who give but the bell does remind people to donate," said Eagle resident Nancy Powell on a bitter cold evening last week.

The ink in a pin froze after a few minutes as a reporter's numb fingers tried to take notes, but Powell was smiling. She's volunteered for about three shifts every year for almost a decade.

"It's a nice break in the hectic season" she said. "It reminds me what I'm grateful for. I'm busy but it's not hard to find time to volunteer because it's important to me."

Powell agrees with other bell ringers that one of the rewards is seeing a lot of people they know during a shift.

"It's very rewarding how generous people are," she said. "I had people give money and say, 'I was in need once and the Salvation Army helped me out.'"

Another reward for volunteers is seeing how much children enjoy dropping money into the kettle. Parents often drop the change into the child's hands and the youngster runs up to the pot. Powell lets them ring the bell after that.

"Little kids love to ring the bell," she said.

Is there an ideal rhythm for bell ringing?

"I've thought about it," Powell said. "I've thought, 'Am I doing the right rhythm?' I've listened to other bell ringers. They're different. I've noticed my rhythm changes during a shift."

As long as it's ringing, however, there's no wrong sound from a bell at a red kettle.

Bell captains coordinate with volunteers to schedule shifts at the kettle. There's a bell captain for each store that has a kettle in front.

Bill Harris has been Eagle's captain for four years and has been ringing the bell for five years.

"I retired five years ago and called the Salvation Army about donating my time," said the 67-year-old.

He usually fills two or three shifts himself every season. He did more than that when he started his captain duties but he learned he had to cut back.

"I used to take any shifts I couldn't find anyone else to fill but I about froze to death," he said.

He said he wasn't sure how much he would like ringing the bell when he started but found joy in it.

"The rewarding thing is that we live in an area that's very generous," he said. "Everyone gives. Some people, you wouldn't think they had any money to give but they do. A lot of people will clean out ash trays to find change to give."

He said he likes knowing the money stays in Eagle County.

"Sometimes people are filling out applications for aid but they can't wait for all the paperwork to be processed - they need help now and that's where this helps," he said.

Wolin-Brown said Harris has been a great person to have on board.

"He's done an amazing job in Eagle," she said.

One of the bell ringers Harris is impressed by is 15-year-old Samantha Pritchard of Eagle.

"She's been doing a lot of shifts," he said.

Pritchard said she did six shifts last year and is on track to do the same this year.

"I did it with my dad when I was little and thought this would be a good place to put my time in," she said. "I like seeing the faces of the little kids when parents give them money to put in the kettle."

Jeanne Mosier, the coordinator for all seven red kettles in Eagle County, said there are quite a few young volunteers.

"The schools, churches and groups like the Rotary Club are very helpful," she said.

Western Eagle County Ambulance District (WECAD) has been filling a solid block of shifts at City Market in Eagle every year for a while.

WECAD is merging with Eagle County Ambulance District (ECAD) and recently announced a new name for the entire organization - Eagle County Paramedic Services (ECPS).

Last week, paramedics rang the bell in Eagle from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. according to their tradition.

"We've been doing this for at least five or six years now," said ECPS Manager Chris Montera. "We help with the holiday food baskets, too. We've been delivering those on Thanksgiving and Christmas for 10 years."

Wolin-Brown said more than 600 baskets were delivered to people in need on Dec. 15.

Sometimes an emergency call comes in while an ambulance crew is manning the bell.

"That's happened a few times," Montera said. "In that case, someone from the office goes over there and covers the shift."

As far as collections go, the uniforms seem to generate more interest in the kettle.

"I think there is a tendency for people to stop and talk to bell ringers, and I think that happens even more when we're in uniforms," Montera said. "I enjoy it. It's a nice time of year to see everyone."

Wolin-Brown said that there has been a good turnout of volunteers all over the county this year.

"This is about the best year ever as far as having slots filled," she said. "We still have openings in Vail, though."

Harris said he is having more trouble than usual filling shifts in Eagle.

"I haven't been as fortunate getting bell ringers this year," he said. "Bell ringing is not something that everyone is comfortable with or that they have time to do. Some people have a hard time soliciting donations."

Meanwhile, the bells will fill the air from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. through Dec. 24.

To sign up or learn more, visit or call the Vail Valley Salvation Army at 970-748-0704.

"Tell us which location you're interested in and we'll put you directly in touch with the bell captain," Wolin-Brown said.

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The VailDaily Updated Dec 19, 2012 01:00PM Published Dec 19, 2012 12:37PM Copyright 2012 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.