Volunteers ring bells for good cause

Every holiday season, longtime North Bend resident Don Olson steps out into the cold, puts on his red Santa hat and red Kiwanis jacket and stands in front of the North Bend QFC for two hours at a time each weekend until Christmas day, ringing a bell and collecting money in a shiny red kettle. Olson even gives out candy canes.

As a member of Kiwanis since the mid-1980s, he has also volunteered his time to collect funds for local Valley residents through the Salvation Army.

"I get into the Christmas spirit," Olson said, adding that he goes home afterward and decorates his yard for Christmas. "I get excited [each year] and then I get to remembering how cold it is."

Cold doesn't stop the 75-year-old, though, nor does it seem to stop the many other local volunteers, including Mount Si High School Key Club members.

"I've been ringing the bell at QFC for 18 years," said Harold Erland, president of the Snoqualmie chapter of Kiwanis. "You get to see and meet a lot of people and talk to a lot of people and you're doing good for the community ... It's part of what Kiwanis does: give back to the community."

The local chapter of Kiwanis has existed in the Valley for the past 76 years, Erland said.

Unlike many collections for the Salvation Army that go to the international organization for distribution, the local Snoqualmie Valley chapter of Kiwanis, a global organization of volunteers dedicated to changing the world for the better one child and one community at a time, gets to keep the funds raised to use locally.

Setting up shop outside local businesses, the Salvation Army doesn't need to pay for volunteers to serve as bell-ringers, Erland explained. In exchange, 100 percent of the money raised goes to Valley residents dealing with hardships who may be in need of energy assistance, supplies and more.

Last year, Kiwanis raised about $7,500, said Jim Gildersleeve, a local Kiwanis member and the chapter's acting secretary. This year, members are hoping to raise at least $1,000 more.

The Salvation Army then donates additional funds, Erland noted.

The collections began after Thanksgiving and will continue until Sunday, Dec. 24.

The primary days of operation are Fridays through the end of the weekends, mainly at local grocery stores.

"We're glad for anyone who wants to help us raise money," Gildersleeve said.

Erland noted that there are about 50 volunteers involved, counting both Kiwanis and non-Kiwanis participants.

The money raised in each Salvation Army pot is left in a secure place overnight and emptied daily, explained Gildersleeve.

"You see a lot of people you haven't seen in a year," Olson said. A retired school teacher who taught locally, Olson often greets former students who still reside here. "People of the Valley are so willing to assist in helping us."

Olson said that he joined Kiwanis after he retired from teaching in 1986 in order to stay connected to the community. He said that there is no sign of him quitting, either.

"I'm enjoying myself too much," he said.

The Snoqualmie Valley Kiwanis meetings are held each Thursday at 7 a.m. at the Denny's restaurant in North Bend, 580 S.W. Mount Si Blvd. Everyone is welcome to attend.

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