By Valerie Baldowski
The Salvation Army has begun its annual holiday fund-raising efforts in Henry County.
The main way the organization raises money in the community at Christmastime is by collecting donations from shoppers outside major retail outlets.
This is done by recruiting bell ringers who wear red aprons and stand by the familiar red kettles outside the stores.
The ringers were posted at the Kroger supermarkets Nov. 21, at Sams Club Nov. 25, and at Belk and both Wal-Marts on Nov. 28.
According to Doug McClure, director for The Salvation Army in Henry County, plans are to raise enough money to help 70 families buy food and toys for Christmas.
"This was our first full week. We're hoping to raise between $7,000 and $10,000," McClure said.
One of those helping raise donations is Locust Grove resident, Sara Bishop, a bell ringer stationed at Sam's Club on Jonesboro Road.
Bishop's son and his wife were bell ringers last year, so she decided to become a ringer herself this holiday season. "This is my first year, but I'm enjoying it," she said.
She said she did not want to sit at home during the Christmas season. Working for the Salvation Army gave her a chance to make some money while supporting the organization.
She usually gets to her location by 11 a.m., or noon, and stays until 5:30 p.m., or 6 p.m. However, she admitted, she has arrived as early as 9 a.m., and has stayed as late as 8 p.m.
Standing in one spot all day provides an opportunity to watch shoppers come and go. Donors of all ages, and "from all walks of life," put money into the kettle, she said.
Bishop told of a five-year-old boy who put a dollar into the kettle as his mother watched nearby.
Another time, a shopper told her he would increase his donation if she would pick up some trash. She did, and he put $10 in the kettle, instead of $1.
"You never know what God's going to do," she added.
She has also observed a wide variety of vehicles driving by in the parking lot, indicating shoppers from various income levels. "Everything from pick-up trucks to cadillacs," she said.
Although some individuals pass by without speaking to her or making a donation, others will give. "Most people are extremely generous," she said.
Some bell ringers are assigned to different locations each day, but Bishop said this is where she will stay. One of the challenges she faces standing by her kettle outside the store is the cold, rain and wind. "I want to stay here because no woman has done it before," she said. "[Salvation Army Director] Doug gave me the challenge."
Store management is appreciative of The Salvation Army's fund-raising efforts.
"We support this program 100 percent," said Chuck Evans, a manager for Sam's Club.
Evans has been with Sam's Club for 16 years, at various stores, and has seen the bell ringers hard at work each Christmas season.
"They've been doing this as far back as you can remember," Evans said. "It's an organization our company supports nationwide. We're happy to have them."
Despite his busy schedule, the manager said he sometimes gets a chance to greet the fund-raisers while they are working outside the store.
"It's the individuals that go out and ring the bell all day, and sometimes, into the night. Those are the ones that count," he said.
Kroger also supports The Salvation Army. Homer Bush, an assistant manager for the store's Price Quarters Road location, said the bell ringers' efforts are bringing in donations.
"They're out there nine or 10 hours," Bush said. "I see a lot of people making contributions in spite of the economy. They work very hard."