Chattanooga area Bell Ringers ready for season

Chattanooga area Bell Ringers ready for season

November 19th, 2012 by Rachel Bunn in Local Regional News

Family members, from left, Grady Ogle, Vicky Ogle and Michael Ogle ring bells Friday in front of Pruett's Signal Mountain Market to raise holiday funds for the Salvation Army.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

RING A BELL

If you'd like to volunteer for the Red Kettle campaign, or start an online red kettle, visit www.csarmy.org/programs_kettle.asp or call 423-756-1023.

Curtis Baggett carries on his father's tradition.

For the past 15 years, every holiday season, Baggett has donned a Santa hat and red apron as a volunteer bell ringer for the Salvation Army's Red Kettle campaign.

His dad was a bell ringer for about 20 years, Baggett said, and he took it up after his father died.

"The most fun of all is when the kids come through, and they can't quite decide if you're Santa," Baggett said. "Or maybe they think you're one of the elves."

This year the Salvation Army is recruiting more volunteers for the annual fundraising campaign to help the poor.

Chattanooga's Red Kettle campaign began in early November, but this year, the bell ringers' presence has been limited. Many national stores asked the Salvation Army not to send out bell ringers until after Thanksgiving, said Kimberly George, director of marketing and development at the Salvation Army.

"All in all, we will have the same amount of ringing days," she said. "We have the opportunity for groups, like offices or organizations to sign up, but a lot of those [people] are starting after Thanksgiving."

Though the Salvation Army has had a steady sign up of volunteers, there are still more needed. Bell ringers sign up for shifts at their own convenience, and the saturation of kettles in the community depends on how many people sign up.

"The more volunteers we have, the more kettles we can put out," George said.

The Red Kettle campaign began in San Francisco in 1891 when a Salvation Army volunteer placed a kettle outside of the Oakland Ferry Landing with a sign that said "Keep the Pot Boiling."

Today, the Salvation Army uses both volunteer and paid bell ringers. As part of its ministry, the Army hires jobless people who need money to help tide them over until they can find a permanent position, George said.

Over the weekend, there was only one bell ringer in the Chattanooga area -- Tom Norman, who rang at Pruett's Food Town in Signal Mountain on Friday.

Gordon Hall, organizer of this year's bell ringers, said most volunteers start after Thanksgiving, but enough started earlier that bells have been ringing every weekend in November so far.

As of Nov. 13, bell ringers had raised more than $35,000 -- about $4,000 more than the same period last year, he said.

Baggett said he's always surprised to see how much people are willing to give. Often, people that he didn't think had money in their pockets will drop $5 in his kettle.

"The times that stick with you are the times people say, 'I'm giving because of what the Salvation Army has done for me,'" he said.

The goal this year is to raise $400,000 from kettle donations locally, George said. Many donations received this year have been earmarked for the victims of Hurricane Sandy, and 100 percent of those donations are sent to the victims.