The sound of bells ringing is a consistent sound of the Christmas season, but for the Salvation Army, it’s an essential sound, too.
The Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign began in 1891 to provide a free Christmas dinner to 1,000 people in San Francisco who couldn’t afford to cook their own. Today, the campaign funds nearly a quarter of the annual budget for the Garden City Salvation Army Corps for which Lts. Jeff and Joyce Curran serve as the local officers.
“This doesn’t just cover Christmas,” Joyce Curran said. “It sustains us throughout the year.”
She said she is thankful for the volunteers who ring the bells and man the red kettles at various locations around town.
“Those people that take the time to ring the bells are giving back,” she said. “They are showing God’s love. They are showing their care for the community.”
Donald Calhoun, 52, of Garden City, has been ringing bells for the campaign for two years. He likes to give candy to the children he sees. He said he gave away 400 suckers on Wednesday.
“It ain’t about the money,” Calhoun, who on Saturday was manning the kettle at Walmart Supercenter, said about the candy that he purchased to give away to the children. “It’s about seeing smiling kids’ faces.”
Calhoun said he’s seen all amounts of donations dropped into the kettles, including last year when an anonymous person gave the Salvation Army a large donation.
“I’ve had people put in $300, $500,” he said. “Last year, I had a person give me a check for $500.”
Gerald Garcia, 58, of Garden City, said he’s been ringing the bell for the Salvation Army for several years.
“I do this every year,” he said. “It’s pretty awesome.”
While the weather was nice this past weekend when Garcia was stationed at the Walmart Supercenter, it's not unusual for the weather to get cold and nasty, given the time of year. Garcia says he doesn't mind the bad weather. In fact, he enjoys it.
“I like the rain and snow,” he said. “I don’t mind. There’s nothing to it. It don’t hurt me.”
He said people will buy him hot chocolate or ask if he needs a blanket.
“I love it,” he said.
Nathaniel Zapata, 33, of Garden City, said that Saturday was his first day ringing a bell.
“I like what I’m doing," he said. “I love people.”
Zapata, who also was manning the kettle at Walmart Supercenter, does it because he agrees with the Salvation Army’s slogan of “doing the most good.”
Karen Louk, 57, of Garden City, said she has been volunteering for the Salvation Army for three years, but this is her first year to ring the bells.
“I like seeing all the people, especially the little ones giving their money,” said Louk, who has worked at Walgreens and Sam's Club since this year's campaign kicked off. "It gives me a blessing in my heart to know there’s more people out there that care,” she said.
Michael Piccone, of Garden City, spent his 50th birthday ringing the bell at Dillons West. He's a new bell ringer, as well.
“It’s to help people, kids and their families,” he said. “You get to meet a lot of people in town.”
Terecita Vasquez, 16, of Garden City, and her 10-year-old sister, Dennisse Duarte, have been ringing the bell for two years. They were at Walmart Saturday night.
“I say God bless you and thank you for putting money in the kettle,” Vasquez said about how she thanks those who give.
Durate said her favorite part is, “when I give candy to the little kids and they say thank you.”
According to Jeff Curran, this year there are about 20 bell ringers plus groups that come in from businesses and organizations throughout the community, such as the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Mosaic, First Christian Church and Papa John's Pizza.
This year’s fundraising goal for the red kettles is $58,000, with a total Christmas Campaign goal of $110,000.
“This makes up 20 to 25 percent of the annual budget,” Jeff Curran said. “We are confident that it’s a good community and that God will provide.”
The money is used for utility, food, rent and medical assistance for people in need; youth programs such as summer camps, character building, mission literacy and leadership training for teens; and it might even purchase a bus ticket for someone who needs to go home for a funeral.
“Each person that comes in here usually has a unique need.” Jeff Curran said.
This year, there are bell ringers at Walmart Supercenter and Walmart Neighborhood Market, Sam’s Club, Hobby Lobby, J.C. Penney, Dillons East and West, Walgreens and Daylight Donuts on Friday and Saturday mornings from 5 to 11 a.m.
“We have plenty of opportunities for people to ring, plenty of locations,” Jeff Curran said. “We ring from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Anybody who has a couple of hours on a weekday or evening, give us a call.”
Anyone interested in helping with the campaign, or seeking more information about the Salvation Army, can call (620) 276-4027.
Clarification: The context of a quote in a previous version of this story was unclear. Donald Calhoun, 52, of Garden City, gave away 400 suckers to children on Nov. 22 when he was manning one of the kettles as a bell-ringer. In his quote, “It ain’t about the money. It’s about seeing smiling kids’ faces," he was referring to the money he spent buying candy for the children, not about the money being donated to the Red Kettle campaign.