There is perhaps no more precious present than the gift of time, and during the holiday season, a couple of hours of your time can make a world of difference to local residents suffering hard times as well as disaster victims around the country.
Tis the season for the Lake Area Salvation Army to sign up bell ringers. Give a little time at the familiar cherry red kettles, and you'll likely get more than you bargained for — perhaps a dash of Christmas spirit and some good will towards man.
Volunteers are needed to tie on the apron and toll the bell to help keep the buckets open and donations flowing throughout the holiday season.
The Salvation Army's motto is "need knows no season." While the kettles only stand outside area businesses in November and December, the coins and bills dropped in by denominations large and small help lift up the struggling throughout the year.
Last year, $56,000 was raised in the lake area at ten locations across Camden, Miller and Morgan counties. Not a bad year, says local chairman Doug Miller, but not the best.
The most they've ever raised was $72,000 and the least was $564 — of course that was in 1994, their first year starting the program.
A long-time volunteer with the Salvation Army, Miller takes the ups and downs at the kettle all in stride.
"What we get is what we get. We utilize whatever people allow us to have," he says.
The main thing is simply being there with a smiling face and open kettle.
"We've been very fortunate to be in the lake area where we have a tremendous amount of giving people and organizations who are always looking out for people who need aid," he says. "We thank the people who have volunteered in the past and thank the people who will volunteer in the future. God bless them all."
Eighty-five percent of the money from local kettles stays in the lake area to help residents mainly with healthcare needs, such as prescription medications, as well as emergency rent and utilities, according to Miller.
All local funds go entirely to help people in need. While many chapters of the Salvation Army now pay people to ring bells, the Lake Area Salvation Army continues to rely on volunteers though all volunteer organizations are seeing declining numbers. The local chapter also has no office or staff, helping people through referrals from area agencies.
The other 15 percent of money raised at the kettles is sent to division headquarters in St. Louis to help with disaster relief around the country.
With Thanksgiving coming late this year, local bell coordinators are looking to get ringers signed up early to get the most bang out of the time they have.
Page 2 of 2 - The Camdenton locations even plan to start early this year. Ringing typically starts the day after Thanksgiving, but outside the Camdenton Walmart, Save-A-Lot and Gerbes and the Sunrise Beach Woods Supermarket, coordinator Judy Crawford plans to have things up and going the Saturday before the holiday, Nov. 23.
Local ring times usually run 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays through Christmas Eve. No ringing is done on Sundays.
Call a local coordinator to sign up individually for a two-hour shift or sign up your organization for a day or week. Churches, civic groups and clubs are encouraged to participate and organize their own force of ringers. However you toll, once you don the apron, you'll be united in the cause of bell ringers everywhere. This holiday season, take time to smile and share in the mission to help - to love — one another.