A New Season of Bell-Ringing

“Unbelievable! Unfathomable! Miraculous!” by Mary M. Young

To The War Cry,

A small town and a neighboring village in Bond County, IL, approximately 50 miles east of St. Louis, have a supernatural success story to share. We’re a small, rural community, with a large percentage of our county’s 16,426 residents living below the poverty level. The Salvation Army does not maintain an office in our community, but it has a definite presence. We have a Salvation Army “Welfare Secretary” who, throughout the year, interviews persons in need and disburses vouchers for groceries, rent, gas and other necessities. Those vouchers are possible only because of the community bell-ringing campaign held during each Christmas season, a campaign with a long history of generosity. The Welfare Secretary along with the other three people on the Bond County Salvation Army committee and the approximately 700 bell-ringers recruited each season are all volunteers.

A year ago, in 2019, our Red Kettle Campaign raised $26,000. We rang 10 hours each day at three locations from Thanksgiving week through December 23, except Sundays and Thanksgiving Day. We were blessed by faithful ringers, good weather for the most part and many generous donors. Counting our success a blessing, yet cautiously expectant, for 2020 we set our sights only slightly higher at $26,500, not wanting to reach too far beyond the community’s means. 

Then came COVID-19! Wondering what we would do, what we would change, how we would go about the campaign, how people would respond, at one point, I admit, I almost wished (selfishly) that the national Salvation Army leaders would just say, “No ringing!” But, while that would have “solved” my dilemma as the bell-ringing coordinator in Bond County, it would have created far, far worse problems for those who were suffering financially even before COVID came along. 

In July of 2020, my doubts, fears and questions were heightened by an article published in The War Cry. Under the heading of “Anticipating the New Normal” in a column entitled “Time to Face Challenges, Explore Options,” I read the following on page 10:

And what about Christmas? The Salvation Army is most visible during the holiday season, but what will that look like this year? Will stores allow the Army to place their iconic stands and kettles outside their doors this Christmas? Will people be willing to get close enough to another person to make a donation at a kettle? How does an organization with over 100 years of this visible presence do so in an environment of online shopping and physical distancing? 

Shrinking resources create a need to evaluate effectiveness of programs, staffing and ways of operating. The closure of programs (even if originally just deemed temporary) can make it very difficult to reopen.

To increase my uneasiness, I had heard on a national news broadcast a prediction that national giving to SA could fall by 50%! Nevertheless, our SA committee met and agreed that we would go ahead. (Did we really have a choice?) We decided to send out a letter in September to both local churches and community businesses to ask for a donation of at least $100 before the bell-ringing season started. The nearly $3,000 that came in in the next few weeks kick-started our campaign, and my optimism grew slightly. Due to our treasurer’s persistence, we secured a fourth site at which to ring just on Fridays and Saturdays, and he obtained a commitment from another of our ring-sites to “Round-Up at the Register.” My hope was rising. To motivate giving, we erected a “thermometer” on our town courthouse lawn to track the progress of donations to the $26,500 goal. That visual record also encouraged me to hope, and shortly before we started ringing, I heard a voice telling me “Trust me. I’ve got this.” I recognized that voice, and my anxiety actually melted away! 

Not everything ran smoothly. Some declined to sign up to ring because of fear of COVID-19, and others signed up but then canceled because of second thoughts about catching COVID-19. Some forgot their appointments. One of the sites had to decrease their hours of operation due to employees with COVID-19, thus decreasing bell-ringing. But despite set-backs, the community came through! We reached $26,500—and we kept going! Our small, financially challenged community didn’t stop until it reached $34,944.21! That’s 32% above our goal!

Unbelievable! Unfathomable! Miraculous! Bell-ringers reported that whereas in previous years they observed single bills rolled up and slipped through the slit in the top of the kettle, this season, people rolled several bills together. Twenties and even fifties showed up in the kettles. Shoppers would drop money into the kettle on the way into the store and again, on the way out. One donor told me that knowing that it was predicted that this would be a tough season, she reached a little deeper as well as giving every time she visited one of the stores where the kettles were placed. Ringers volunteered to ring again—and again!

Our little community has a history of coming through, of supporting each other, of lending a helping hand, of giving generously to many organizations of aid.

And of course, our great and generous Lord was not surprised at all by the bounty. Amidst my anxiety, I had heard Him correctly before the first bell was even rung, “Trust me! I’ve got this!” 

Mary M. Young, Bell-ringing Coordinator, Bond County, IL Salvation Army

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