AUBURN — As shoppers went inside Kmart on a recent weekday, Jeff Reynolds and his wife, Debbie, manned the Salvation Army kettle, ringing the familiar bell.
“Good morning!” Reynolds said with a cheery voice. With his bushy white beard, red hat and apron, “Yes,” Jeff said. “I’ve been told I look like Santa.”
The other day a little boy, Henry, came up to him. “He said, ‘Hi Santa, this is what I want for Christmas,’” Reynolds said with a laugh. He listened, then told the boy Santa would do what he could.
“He gets that all the time,” said Lt. Daniel Johnson of the Salvation Army of Lewiston. “He’s one of our best volunteers.”
This year the Salvation Army needs more bell-ringers like Jeff. It needs help.
The number of volunteers, and the number of stores where the kettles are allowed during Christmas, and the monetary donations are all down, Johnson said.
“We’ve lost some stores,” Johnson said. “We’ve lowered our goal to $95,000. And donations, I can tell you we’re behind $2,500 from where we were last year.”
The kettle drive started Nov. 10, but it picks up full steam the Friday after Thanksgiving through Christmas.
This holiday season Salvation Army kettles are in front of Kmart, Shaw’s in Lewiston and Auburn, Hobby Lobby in Auburn, and beginning Friday, at Walmart in Auburn.
Roopers said no to all solicitations this year, including the Salvation Army kettles. “They did send us a donation,” Johnson said. “The other one is Marden’s,” he said. “We usually are there on day one. This year they told us to wait until Dec. 4.”
A few years ago Hannaford supermarkets said no to all solicitations, including the Salvation Army. Hannaford has signs at the checkouts informing shoppers they can donate $2 or $5 to the Salvation Army, but shoppers have to ask to donate.
Donations are small when there’s a sign asking for donations, versus a human ringing a bell.
“It’s night and day,” Johnson said. “When you have a physical person there, especially a person greeting and chatting with a smile on their face, that makes a world of difference.”
Another challenge is that the Salvation Army needs more bell-ringers. It has 10 to 15 regulars, which is down, and some who volunteer occasionally.
“We do have a few groups who ring for us,” Johnson said, including the Optimist Club, the Auburn-Lewiston Rotary, the Lewiston Fire Department and the Minot Fire Department.
And the need for help is up from last year, Johnson said. “We have 200 families we’re serving.” Each family will get food, clothing and some gifts. The kettle drive also helps with the Salvation Army yearlong food pantry, winter coats, and helping the needy with heating assistance.
“We could always use some bell-ringers,” Johnson said. “It can come in any form,” even a few hours on one day. “Anything would help us out.”
Salvation Army bell-ringer Jeff Reynolds attracts smiles for dressing as Santa. He and his wife, Debbie Reynolds, staff the kettle at Kmart in Auburn. This year the number of bell-ringers, stores where kettles are allowed and donations are down and the need is great, said Salvation Army Lt. Daniel Johnson. (Bonnie Washuk/Sun Journal)
Who’s volunteering to ring the bells:
Nov. 25-26: Optimist Club at Kmart in Auburn, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Nov. 25: Auburn-Lewiston Rotary Club at Shaw’s in Auburn, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Dec. 9: Minot Fire Department, at Walmart in Auburn (both doors), 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Dec. 13: Moody’s Collision, at Shaw’s in Auburn, 4 to 8 p.m.
The Lewiston Fire Department is volunteering to staff Salvation Army kettles in December, Chief Brian Stockdale said. “We don’t have the times set up yet. We’ll see what’s needed.” Lewiston firefighters get involved “because it’s a good cause; it gets us out there, giving back,” he said.
If you are interested in volunteering, contact Salvation Army Lt. Daniel Johnson at 402-8632.