Salvation Army seeks bell-ringer reinforcements as season closes

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It’s five days ‘til Christmas as the kettle bells toll, and more help is needed to reach this year’s goal.

A handful of obstacles have chilled this season’s giving at the Salvation Army’s red kettles in Kilgore and Longview, and Lt. Nicholas Hutchinson is hoping a holiday miracle – in the form of volunteer bell ringers and donations – will ensure a merry Christmas for Angel Tree recipients and a Happy New Year for the men, women and children who need the organization’s help.

“We’ve been struggling this season, to be honest,” Hutchinson said Tuesday, currently at 75 percent of the year’s $160,000 goal with only days left in the campaign.

Commanding officer of Salvation Army – Longview with his wife, Lt. Michelle Hutchinson, he oversees the kettle program while she handles the Angel Tree for children in need.

Approximately 1,160 Angels are on the list this year for gifts funded by the kettle program’s proceeds. The remainder of the donations benefit the Salvation Army’s myriad social services throughout the year, from its shelter to meals and more.

Unfortunately, according to Hutchinson, “We lost several of our early ringing locations,” he said, spots for pre-Thanksgiving donations: “Because of that, we started the year with a $10,000 deficit.”

There have been staffing problems on top of that slow start.

“With the cold snap that we had a couple of weeks ago, we lost six employees in one day because it was just too cold for folks to be standing outside all day. We try to provide them with some warmth items,” Hutchinson said, “hand warmers, hats and gloves, but when the weather’s too cold, it’s just too cold.”

As of Monday, the kettle campaign was sitting about $40,000 shy of the 2017 goal with $120,000 collected and only five ringing-days left: typically, the program wraps on Christmas Eve, but Salvation Army doesn’t solicit donations on Sunday’s.

The organization has 30 potential bell-ringer locations throughout the area, including two regularly-staffed in Kilgore at Walmart and Brookshire’s.

“If we have the coverage – if there’s enough paid bell-ringers and volunteers – then we also have the Walgreens in Kilgore,” Hutchinson noted.

In the midst of his first year as commanding officer in Longview, Hutchinson says he hasn’t been able to count on that level of coverage this season.

“To me it seems a bit low on volunteers, but it’s possible it’s average,” he said. “We’ve been averaging about 21 a day,” between volunteers and approximately 18 paid ringers on the roster at the moment: “Several of them came down with the flu this week.”

Ringers man the various kettles from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, typically a single shift. A minimum volunteer shift is four hours.

Hutchinson’s eager to bring anyone on board who can help in the final days of the campaign, striving for the $160,000 goal with as much help as possible.

“We’ve got LeTourneau students that are on Christmas Break. We’ve got folks staying at our homeless shelter or the Hiway 80 Rescue Mission. Several retired individuals – we’ve even got an 80-year-old bell ringer. She’s wonderful,” he said. “I would love to have more groups volunteer.”

Would-be kettle ringers can reach Hutchinson or kettle-coordinator Keith Gibson at 903-215-8463.

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