Do you drop your change into the Salvation Army's red kettles this time of year? Do you slip past, hoping the bell ringer won't notice you? I must admit I do both, depending on how much of a hurry I'm in and how much cash I have handy.
Someone in my family was living in Rapid City in June of 1972, when a devastating flood raged through the area and killed 238 people. Among his memories of that time was the heroic work done by the Salvation Army, even after the leader of the local organization was drowned trying to rescue flood victims.
So one of my Christmas traditions is to put a decent-sized check into a Salvation Army red kettle. I appreciate the work the organization does. I also respect the volunteers who are willing to stand out in the cold for hours, ringing their bells until they must hear them in their sleep and wishing "Merry Christmas" to both those who contribute and those who don't.
My favorite bell ringer this year is the slight, elderly man in front of the drug store. I stop by two or three times a week, and he's almost always there. He isn't the most active red-kettle volunteer I've ever seen. He's usually sitting down. He doesn't necessarily ring the bell with a great deal of vigor. Sometimes, on cold days, he'll be inside the entrance of the store warming up. All in all, he looks as if he should be receiving services from the Salvation Army, rather than raising money for them.
Yet he may well be one of the most effective bell ringers I've ever seen. Maybe it's the way he smiles and wishes everyone a "Merry Christmas." Maybe it's his consistent presence. Or maybe it's the fact that his seat is a folding one that doubles as a walker—and attached to it is his oxygen tank.
I'll put money into his red kettle any time.