Salvation Army service unit bell ringers are not necessarily looking for the big bills, just "whatever excess change a person has," said Lathum. "Pennies add up to dimes and dimes to dollars very quickly."
Donors can rest assured, however, that whatever money they are able to contribute goes to those who need it - not those who collect it. "All of our bell ringers are volunteers," said Lathum. "One hundred percent volunteers and all the money stays locally."
Having identified the elderly as having "the predominant needs in our area," according to Lathum, "our first and foremost priority is to satisfy the needs of the senior citizens."
Lathum said the Salvation Army is ready to "help any individual or family in need," providing vouchers of up to $50 to assist with a wide variety of needs including medical care, emergency food, vision care for school-age children, emergency transportation, "last straw" assistance for stranded families and even fans to keep the elderly cool during hot weather. The Salvation Army also assists families forced from their homes by fires.
Although the Salvation Army is happy to accept donations at any time during the year, the bell ringing campaign is their sole fund-raising event. "Our primary effort is always the bell ringing effort," said Lathum.
Over a single weekend, it will take 24 volunteers to work the bells and kettles, according to Lathum. He estimated this year's campaign will have included a total "in the neighborhood of 200 or more," in part due to support from various groups such as New Madrid County Central's Honor Society, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Missouri Youth Services office in New Madrid. "We've got some wonderful volunteers this year," said Lathum.
Lathum said when they first established the local chapter five years ago it was a bit tough coming up with enough volunteers. Those who try it, however, usually come back for more. "It becomes something you want to do every year, something you look forward to," said Lathum.
Many people don't realize until they see the bell ringers in action that it is something they would like to help with and the Salvation Army is always happy to have more volunteers.
Lathum said the best way to help out, however, is to contact the local Salvation Army chapter a few months in advance so they can begin to set their schedule. "If they want to really be involved we want to talk with them in September," said Lathum.
Knowing they are helping to further a worthy cause is the main payoff for volunteers, but there are other rewards.
Occasional acts of kindness like the cups of hot chocolate one lady recently brought the bell-ringing volunteers are, without a doubt, appreciated. "It makes you know the effort is worthwhile," said Lathum. But those who wish to show volunteers their support don't necessarily have to go that far. "Just a friendly smile and a 'thank you' goes a long way."
Salvation Army volunteer bell ringers will continue to collect donations in their kettles at the Sikeston Wal-Mart's main entrance and grocery entrance from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. each weekend until Christmas.
For more information call 748-5680.