Along with the bells, the kettle began to ring with the sounds of coins donated by those walking by. Gowan smiled at the givers, continuing his song.
Later the Portageville High School sophomore began to wonder: Were they giving because they enjoyed their enthusiastic singing "or maybe they gave to shut us up," he said with grin.
It is just that kind of enthusiasm the New Madrid County Salvation Army hopes for when they ask students from the county to volunteer each Christmas season to ring the bell to encourage donations.
Bob Pulliam, New Madrid County Salvation Army volunteer, explained originally the students were asked to become bell ringers when there weren't enough adults to man the kettle on Fridays and Saturdays starting the first weekend after Thanksgiving and continuing each weekend as well as the entire week prior to Christmas.
"The kids pick the Christmas spirit up for everyone and they do an excellent job," praised Pulliam. This year students from the Portageville High School Future Business Leaders of America and New Madrid County Central High School's Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Future Farmers of America, Junior ROTC and the National Honor Society are ringing the bell.
Tammy Hall, Portageville High School's FBLA sponsor, said she encourages the members such as Gowan to volunteer. She has found the students enjoy the volunteer duty, even competing for the limited number of slots.
"The kids love it," she said.
And she and Pulliam agreed while it is a good time and an opportunity to perform a community service, there is another lesson the students are learning. "It is a good opportunity for kids to understand about sharing their time and helping people in need," explained Pulliam.
Jerry Lathum, New Madrid County chairman of the Salvation Army, talked with the groups prior to their manning the kettle for the Salvation Army.
He told the students to smile and greet everyone as they enter. Bellringers, he cautioned, shouldn't huddle around the kettle but stand to the side providing plenty of room for those who wish to make a donation. They should be sure to thank those who donate.
Also he wanted the students to understand just what their efforts will mean to the county's residents. "We are a small chapter with only a small budget but when there is someone in need, whatever the need, we try to help," said Lathum.
He explained the funds will find a variety of uses. Some money is used to help families who lose their homes to fires or funds might help a child in need of glasses but without the resources to cover the cost of the prescription. The Salvation Army assists senior citizens who are transitioning between a private healthcare system to Medicare and in need of a prescription but unable to cover the costs and others with medical needs.
With the money brought in by ringing the bell during the holiday season, Lathum continued, the Salvation Army works with other organizations merging funds to provide maximum benefits. He said many of the students are aware of the needs which exist around their hometowns.
The New Madrid County chairman also emphasized the importance of helping, if not for the Salvation Army than for other causes. "As individuals we have got to know we have a gift, the gift of life. If ours is good we need to help others who are less fortunate."
Encouraging the young people to continue to volunteer as they grow up, Lathum concluded: "There will always will be needs out there and though they may not realize it now, not only will the person that money ends up with get help but also the person ringing the bell."
And many of the students have discovered the power of giving. "It puts you in Christmas spirit," said Gowan about volunteering his free time out of school. "It feels really good to know your time will help people who don't have as much."