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Salvation Army volunteers ring in season

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012 3:03 p.m. CDT

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David Erickson said even after 14 years of bell-ringing for The Salvation Army, he would gladly do it 365 days a year if he could.

He starts ringing in mid-November and goes through Christmas Eve.

“I do this every year,” he said. “I’ve never missed a day.”

Each year, he dons a red apron and layer after layer of warm clothing before putting in a full day of bell-ringing to fill his red kettle. He said he contributes at least a dollar each day to his own kettle.

His years-long run as a bell-ringer started with him working off some required community service hours, but it became a tradition.

“I keep doing it. It benefits a lot of people, including myself,” Erickson said, adding that he has depended on The Salvation Army’s services on and off since 1978. “I like doing it. I see a lot of good. I wish I could do it every day, seven days a week.”

Once Thanksgiving festivities wrap up, dozens of volunteers turn up each year at local grocery and drug store entrances to raise funds for The Salvation Army Tri-City Corps through the annual Red Kettle Campaign.

Bell-ringers are posted at 18 locations in the Tri-Cities area, some of which have bell-ringers at multiple entrances. Sites include Walgreens, Jewel, Hobby Lobby, Blue Goose Market and the Charlestowne Mall.

Some bell-ringers choose to volunteer for as many as 11 hours a day, standing outside in the cold. But those who return year after year – and those who have just started out – find it to be a rewarding experience.

This year, The Salvation Army’s goal is to collect $375,000 to help families in the organization’s Christmas assistance programs and help fill other needs throughout the year.

Unlike Erickson, Judy Gonzalez of St. Charles had never been a bell-ringer before Tuesday. She said she followed in the footsteps of her husband, Martin Gonzalez, who is in his third year of volunteering.

“The Salvation Army has helped us tremendously,” she said. “In the past, they’ve helped us with mortgage payments, utilities, food. They’ve helped us in so many ways. We’re so blessed, and we want to give back.”

Carole Johnson of Batavia said she rings for The Salvation Army in the morning and attends school at Waubonsee Community College at night. She said this is her second year volunteering as a bell-ringer.

She said as someone who has received help from the organization in the past, she knows the money collected during the campaign goes toward a good cause.

“People come up and tell me all the time what wonderful things The Salvation Army has done for them,” she said. “... So I know they do really good things for people.”

This is the third year Michael Gilgan of St. Charles has been a bell-ringer. He said he loves meeting all of the people who stop by to add some cash to the kettle.

“It’s the satisfaction of helping people in need” that keeps him coming back, he said.

Some bell-ringers are paid minimum wage, including Eddie Chrnko of St. Charles. He said he has been an unemployed painter for the past few years and takes on 10- to 11-hour days as a bell-ringer.

“Even though I’m paid, it’s still very gratifying to do this,” he said.

Chrnko thanked every person who donated on the way into Walmart in Batavia, and gave everyone a blessing. Johnson did the same at her post Tuesday in front of Sam’s Club in Batavia.

“People have been really generous,” she said. “It’s been really good.”

Angel Ayala, office administrator and volunteer coordinator with The Salvation Army, said there still are lots of open slots for volunteers for the Red Kettle Campaign.

“We still have plenty of sites,” she said. “Even if it’s just two hours, it still makes a big difference.”

To volunteer

Sign up online at www.satricity.org or call The Salvation Army at 630-377-2769 and ask for kettle coordinator David Byrne.

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