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This bell's for you: Snoqualmie Valley Kiwanis, Salvation Army hand ringing duties to volunteers
A Santa hat, that's what I need, I'm thinking. Definitely, a big, furry hat. OK, I'll take any hat, and some mittens would be nice.
It's cold and drizzling, and I've learned that I can't sustain any kind of musical rhythm with the Salvation Army bell in my left hand (my right hand is staying warm in my pocket). But no one's complaining about my technique, and they're still putting money in the kettle, so I'm happy.
By the time Harold Erland comes back with his coffee, I've seen a mother teaching her little daughter about giving, and another woman make good on her promise to "be right back" with a donation. I've also failed to take anyone's photo as they made their contributions.
"You know why?" Erland asked me. "They don't want a picture because the Bible says 'when you give, don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,'" quoting Matthew 6:3.
Erland had something there. He's been doing the bell-ringing gig for 25 years, and has lived in North Bend most of his life, so he knew a lot of the people who came by his kettle at the North Bend Safeway last week.
It was his first shift of the bell-ringing season, and he was ready for it, in boots, layers of sweaters topped by a winter coat, and a stocking cap.
"And I've got warmer stuff than this at home!" he said. "When I dress to ring the bell, I don't get cold."
A shift is two hours, and his tradition is to ring the bell for 16 hours each season, partly because the Snoqualmie Valley Kiwanis Club that coordinates the event for the Salvation Army never seems to have enough volunteer bell-ringers, partly for personal reasons.
"It's fun. It gives you a good feeling," he said.
Also, it's easy, easy enough that anyone can do it, and Kiwanis is encouraging everyone to give it a try.
"You just set this here," Erland said, putting together the two halves of the kettle stand, "and ring the bell. There! You're trained!"
Well, there's a little more to it. You should also smile and say "thank-you" of course, and if you're ringing the bell with Key Club members from Mount Si High School, you might want to practice beforehand.
Sophomore Aja Corliss and freshman Kelsey Seiser both needed a little coaching from other club members helping at the North Bend QFC to get the right sound, at first.
"We were kind of making fun of her (Corliss)," says Marissa Roy, a senior in Key Club. Down at the other entrance, Douglas Knox was demonstrating the right way to do things for Seiser. The source of his talent? "I'm really good at 'Rock Band,'" he explains.
Knox, a junior at Mount Si, added "I just joined Key Club, and I wanted to do something for the community. They told me this was how."
All of the students were new to bell-ringing, but in Erland's experience, they'll come back again in future years, for the same reasons he does.
"I just enjoy it. I know where the money goes, it all stays in the Valley, and everybody knows what the Salvation Army is," he said.
"It's all for the Salvation Army, and all the money stays here in the community," Key Club president Madison Bardsley volunteers. She added that the Salvation Army spends about $80,000 in the community in a year, much more than the bell-ringing campaign brings in.
Erland is an authorized distributor of Salvation Army funds, and he confirmed that the organization usually gives more than it receives, especially during floods. He's got plenty of stories about people that he, or the administrators at the North Bend and Snoqualmie Police Departments have helped.
"What people need to remember is, when they get cold and put the bucket away, when they quit, that's as warm as some of the people we help get," he said.
This year's goal for the bell-ringing campaign is $8,000, the same as the last several years. Last year, the campaign fell short of the goal for the first time, and this year, Erland says donations have been slow in coming. That won't change his approach to potential donors, though. He'll always smile, and say "Merry Christmas," whether you donate or not.
"People don't have to put money in the bucket," he said. "It's a volunteer thing. It's a heart thing."
My bell-ringing shift lasted maybe 10 minutes, and yes, I still wished I had a hat. But I wasn't complaining—I was still warmer than a lot of people in need, especially on the inside.