• 70°

‘Bells will be ringing’ Volunteer Santas needed

The Salvation Army’s annual bell-ringing donation drive willbegin in less than two weeks, and the local chapter is looking tofill its sidewalk Santa ranks with more volunteers for 2008.

Lincoln County Coordinator Wesley Kent said the McComb-basedchapter of the national organization is seeking to outdo lastyear’s volunteer head count of 90 to help it trump last year’sdonation total of approximately $24,000.

This year, Kent said the organization is hoping to hit the$30,000 mark in Lincoln County, and a few more Santas may benecessary. The bells begin ringing on Friday, Nov. 28, and theeffort will continue through Tuesday, Dec. 23.

“We’re looking for as many as we can get,” he said. “We had 90last year, and this year we’d like to have that many or more.”

The Santas will serve in two-hour shifts at both entrances tothe Brookhaven Wal-Mart, the only business in the county where theSalvation Army solicits donations. Bell ringing will begin at 9a.m. and last until 6 p.m., though Kent said gung-ho volunteerscould man their post until 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. if they wish.

Sidewalk Santas will not have to verbally solicit donations.

“We never ask for anything,” Kent said. “We just ring the bells,and when people give, we say, ‘Thank you.'”

Kent pointed out that bell ringing for the organization is agood way for school and civic groups to meet community servicerequirements, as well as a good way for local businesses andorganizations to self-advertise.

All that, and volunteers don’t even have to dress like Santa -unless they want to.

“We would like for the [Brookhaven-Lincoln County] Chamber ofCommerce or any of the local banks to come help, and if they wantto come with their logo on, we’ll be glad for them to do that,”Kent said. “If any clubs want to wear their uniforms, that would befine with us.”

Kent said approximately 86 percent of the money raised inLincoln County is used locally through the Salvation Army forseveral types of assistance.

“We help anybody that’s in need,” he said. “A lot of the time atChristmas, we found out families that can’t afford gifts for theirchildren, so we give that. If there’s a house fire, we’ll help thatfamily. There’s all kinds of ways – most anything that anybody hasa need for that they can’t do themselves, then we’ll try tohelp.”

Aside from meeting community service requirements, showing off abusiness or group and raising money for Lincoln County, Kent saidserving as a sidewalk Santa is a fulfilling enterprise.

Recalling his many years at the donation kettle, Kent rememberedthe kindness of passers-by.

“I had a guy walk down the street toward me last year with asatchel, and I could tell he’d been on the road,” he recounted. “Hewalked up to me, and I knew he was going to ask me for some money.But he pulled five $1 bills out of his pocket, counted out threeand put them in the kettle and stuffed the other two back in hispocket. He said he always gave a little.”

Kent recalled another habitual donator who shared that one ofhis childhood Christmases – one in which he expected no presentsthat year – was saved by a Salvation Army official who gave him afootball and his sister a doll for Christmas. Kent said theindividual always donates to the Salvation Army atChristmastime.

“Stories like that make you feel good,” Kent said. “And you hearall kinds of stories like that.”