It was cold enough outside Monday morning that a cloud of fog surrounded 15-year-old Canalou resident Rachael Felton's mouth every time she took a breath.
But she was determined to finish her two-hour shift and kept moving the small, tarnished bell back and forth in her right hand outside the Wal-Mart entrance. Around her, shoppers walked briskly into the store to get out of the cold air and left the store, bundled in their jackets, pushing carts filled with packages and carrying bags of food and other Christmas must-haves.
Some shoppers ignored her. Others approached her, cramming bills folded into tiny rectangles and triangles or dropping their coins in the cherry red kettles. And every time someone donated, Felton smiled and said "Thank you and Merry Christmas."
This was Felton's first year as a bell ringer for The Salvation Army Red Kettle campaign, and she volunteered for the New Madrid County Junior ROTC, a high-school-level military program she belongs to. "I'm doing it just so I can help out and everything," she said.
Since 1891, The Salvation Army Red Kettle campaign and bell ringers have been an American tradition outside store entrances during the holiday season.
These bell ringers belong to several school and community groups, like National Honors Society from the surrounding area. And all of the donated money is put back in the local community and used by The Salvation Army in this area.
Eighteen-year-old Hannah Smith of Parma is what some would consider an experienced bell ringer. This is her second year volunteering, and this year she worked outside the Wal-Mart doors for two organizations - National Honors Society and the New Madrid County Junior ROTC.
Bell ringing is something Smith enjoys that helps her get into the spirit of the season.
"I think it's remarkable to a point because you get to see how many people donate and want to help," Smith said. "When you get to stand up here, you get to see how much people really care."
Bell ringers get to see "the real Christmas spirit," Smith added. While some people focus on negative things about Christmas, all the bell ringers see is positive - people helping out others.
Felton agreed. During Monday's cold, blustery winds, a man deposited money in the kettle telling her "you're doing a good thing."
His comment was one that The Salvation Army bell ringers hear quite often. "A lot of people tell you that," Felton said.
Customers often don't have spare change when they are walking into the store, Smith said. "But they say 'we'll get you on the way out,'" she said. And they usually do, she said.
But as shoppers increasingly began using credit and debit cards for their shopping, they have little or no change on hand to donate. So in 2004, The Salvation Army added an online tool for shoppers who use their plastic to help out, too.
"We're making it easier for the growing numbers of people shopping and paying bills online to help the growing numbers of Americans in need of hope this holiday season," said Major George Hood, National Community Relations Secretary for The Salvation Army in a press release. "Funds donated to Red Kettles benefit people recovering from all kinds of personal disasters, ranging from unanticipated home heating costs to the loss of a job, more than any other social services charity."
The Red Kettle campaign runs through Dec. 24. For more information, visit the Salvation Army's Web site at www.salvationarmy.com