Vail Valley Salvation Army needs more bell ringers
Holiday-season effort is the local nonprofit's biggest fundraiser
EAGLE COUNTY — It’s the time of year when happy, sometimes chilly volunteers are ringing bells and filling kettles for the local Salvation Army. It’s early, so there’s still time to volunteer.
Local chapter director Tsu Wolin-Brown said the bell ringers started their annual work Nov. 22 at most local stores. Because of the national organization’s agreements with national companies, bell ringers won’t appear outside Avon’s Walmart store until Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.
The ringers started early this year because Thanksgiving, always the fourth Thursday of November, is about as late as it can be this year.
Bell ringers are an essential part of the local Salvation Army’s annual funding. Wolin-Brown said bell ringers in 2017 collected almost $55,000. Putting that much cash in kettles this year would be a very good thing.
The local Salvation Army provides hundreds of food baskets at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but the nonprofit’s work stretches throughout the year.
People go to the Salvation Army for food aid through the local pantry. The nonprofit also provides emergency assistance with rent, utility bills and sometimes bus tickets to get travelers where they need to go.
“We’re a safety net,” Wolin-Brown said. “We serve who comes to our door.”
That can be just about anyone, she said. Among the thousands of people the nonprofits serve are those who have been hurt or sick and can’t work, or those who have lost their jobs.
“One thing can (put someone in need),” she said.
Seasonal employees often need a little help with food or rent before they receive their first paychecks, Wolin-Brown said.
Other services include a garden and greenhouse, along with other programs.
It all adds up to nearly 6,000 cases per year.
While the Salvation Army works all year, November and December are when the nonprofit is most visible, thanks in large part to the bell-ringers.
“These are the two months people are really reminded we’re in a privileged position,” Wolin-Brown said. And the bell ringers see all kinds of contributions.
One bell captain in just the last week pulled a $1,000 check from a kettle. Wolin-Brown said bell ringers will often see people who have recently been to the food pantry giving their children spare change for the kettles.
Jennifer and Christopher Alvey help coordinate bell ringers in Eagle and Gypsum. In a phone interview, Jennifer said her husband’s own childhood led them to help the Salvation Army as they’re able.
“My husband grew up poor and the family relied on the Salvation Army,” Alvey said. “This is a way to give back, to help in some way.”
Those kettles are as old as the Salvation Army itself, but the donation buckets this year have a bit of modern technology — “tap and pay” devices that can take donations from debit or credit cards. Those donations will go to the Salvation Army chapter in the cardholder’s billing address. If you’re from out of town and want to contribute to local efforts, you still need to put cash or checks in the kettle.
All that is why it’s important to fill the available time slots for bell ringers. There are about 900 total spots available, and there are holes in the schedule. Wolin-Brown and others associated with the Salvation hope to fill those holes quickly.
“It makes a huge difference for us,” she said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-748-2930.
Snowplowing efforts are a prime example of how sometimes the very people who need a service hinder its delivery.