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Bell Ringers An Important Part Of Salvation Army
[December 05, 2012]

Bell Ringers An Important Part Of Salvation Army

Dec 05, 2012 (Times Record - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Most people wouldn't enjoy standing out in the cold for 10 hours, but for the bell ringers of the Salvation Army of Fort Smith, it's just another day on the job.

Robert Hall, 64, one of those bell ringers, says he doesn't mind the long hours and the sometimes harsh weather.

"This type of job fits in with my personality," Hall said. "I do what I enjoy and I enjoy what I do." Hall arrives at Hobby Lobby, 5900 Rogers Ave., about 9 or 10 a.m. six days a week, and doesn't leave until around 9 p.m. This is the fourth year he has been a bell ringer, and said the weather has been nicer this year compared to other years.

"There's been some nice weather and I'm grateful for that," Hall said.

Hall has also been a bell ringer at Fianna Hills and Big Lots in Fort Smith. He said the spot in front of Hobby Lobby has been one of his favorites because of how nice people usually are.

"People are very nice and courteous in general," Hall said. "It makes my job easier." Hall said he is dedicated to his work; bell ringers generally get two 15-minute breaks and a break for lunch, but he said he doesn't usually take them. He said he also leaves his cell phone at home so it won't distract him.

"I feel like if I'm taking breaks I'll be missing people," Hall said. "I'm losing money if I take breaks. Every donation counts." On Sunday, his only day off, Hall attends both the morning and evening services at Quinn Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, 723 N. Eighth St. in Fort Smith. Hall said his faith helps drive him to do good for others.

"If God tells me to do something, I do it," Hall said. "If I help people, God will help me too." Hall is one of nearly 130 volunteers who ring bells to raise funds for the Salvation Army every year during the holidays, Capt. Carlyle Gargis said. This year is the largest Christmas yet for the charity, and officials hope to raise $200,000 in the region through the red kettle program.

Gargis said the money raised goes toward the charity's Angel Tree program, but also to anything else the Salvation Army needs in order to operate 24/7. Some bell ringers are paid for their work, and others are volunteers from organizations like the Kiwanis and Rotary clubs of Fort Smith and Van Buren.

"When you're at a kettle site, when you spend some time there, you begin to hear stories of how the Salvation Army has touched families in all kinds of different ways," Gargis said. "Many will tell you if it wasn't for the Salvation Army they wouldn't have Christmas." Charles Smith, kettle coordinator at Salvation Army, said bell ringers are stationed at 27 locations throughout western Arkansas, including Fort Smith, Van Buren, Alma and Greenwood.

"It's hard work; I don't know of anybody else who could be out there for nine to 10 hours, ringing a bell, telling people, 'Merry Christmas,' and, 'God bless you,'" Smith said.

Bell ringers are assigned to their stations starting the weekend before Thanksgiving, which was Nov. 16 this year, and work until Christmas Eve, Smith said. Their work is critical to the Salvation Army's year-round operation, Smith said.

"It's because of those guys out there; they really help us throughout the year," Smith said. "No matter what programs we have going on -- it doesn't just help with the Angel Tree; it helps with every facet of the Salvation Army." The Salvation Army of Fort Smith projects to give gifts to 1,800 children this year through its Angel Tree program, along with food boxes for 3,000 people, Gargis said. Many residents of nursing homes in the region also will receive a Christmas stocking filled with a lap blanket, socks and a stuffed Prayer Bear, Gargis said.

The deadline to donate gifts for the Angel Tree program is Monday, Gargis said. Donations can be brought to the Angel Tree at Central Mall in Fort Smith, or to the Salvation Army.

"We will affect, hopefully, a lot of people's lives this Christmas, and we're really hoping that folks will continue to remember the red kettle that helps make all this happen," Gargis said.

___ (c)2012 Times Record (Fort Smith, Ark.) Visit Times Record (Fort Smith, Ark.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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