We ring lots of bells. Church bells. School bells begin and end school. The dinner bell is always welcomed. Sleigh bells. Doorbells. My wife plays in and directs a handbell choir. Cowbells find lost cows and make Mississippi State fans go crazy! Bells ring when a patient is cancer free. Railroad crossing bells. And let’s not forget those wedding bells.
Today let’s celebrate the little-bitty but sorta shrill bells we ring for the Salvation Army during its annual Red Kettle Christmas season mission. It has been an honor in my 35 years as a Rotarian in three clubs in three states – Texas, California and Tennessee – to ring those bells.
This past Saturday, 10 members of the Rotary Club of Farragut worked in pairs, filling two-hour shifts from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the main entrance to the Farragut Kroger. This Saturday, 10 more Rotarians will repeat the bell ringing.
Their unselfish service and commitment to the Salvation Army made me wonder: “Why do they do this?” So, why everybody?
Sonya Ford is club secretary. “Ringing that bell is so uplifting. People are so cheerful when they drop money into the bucket. This of one my favorite projects of the year. Tom Marsh and I are already talking about our plans for next year.”
Tom Marsh always brings his guitar along and maybe a grandchild too, sings and says Have a Merry Christmas. Here’s why: “… I volunteer because the Salvation Army and Rotary have a lot of the same goals to make the world a better place. It is not asking much of us to donate a couple of hours of our time each year to make a difference and it fills me with the Christmas spirit seeing money go in the red kettle because people want to give, not because they have to give.”
Former UT journalism professor Mike Singletary is the coordinator of our ringing teams and this project is a real labor of love for him. “We do it because we think our small labor produces big benefits. Without help from groups like Rotary, the Salvation Army has to hire workers and that reduces their financial benefits. This bell ringing is caring for our community and it’s a public service, and service is what Rotary is all about.” Folks like Mike’s fiddling, too.
Megan Belcher is our immediate past president. This holiday tradition became part of her DNA long ago. “This was my first taste of volunteer work! I coordinated volunteers for the Plaza Tower (also known as First Horizon Plaza) downtown for several years. Second, I love anyone and everyone who takes the opportunity to give. Some give a little, some give a lot … but most people will search through a pocket or purse to find something to contribute. Also, it is a great opportunity for our kids to serve. My kids have enjoyed ringing the bell since they were little. It is a Christian ministry truly focused on serving those in need.”
“Bell ringing is a chance to see people at their best, who give to help others,” says Tom Woodbery. “Over the years I have noticed that those who appear less prosperous are usually the most generous givers.”
Bill Nichols uses a little “inside” information for his perspective. “This is the one organization where its leaders receive penance in terms of salaries to give to those in need. I ring the bell to give back to the Salvation Army for what they do without fanfare. I served on an Allocation Committee one year and I saw how little they asked for and what great works they did for those in need of food and housing.”
Tory Kinson speaks to the spirit of the season. “It’s the tiniest of reminders that not everyone is as fortunate as I am. It fills me with gratitude. There are three things that light the spark of the Christmas spirit for me each year — my kids’ Christmas concerts, praying the Colombian Novena on the nine days before Christmas, and ringing that little bell (and dancing) for the Salvation Army. Works every single time.”
Tom King is a career journalist and a past president of the Rotary Club of Farragut, which meets each Wednesday at 12:15 p.m. at the Farragut Community Center, 239 Jamestown Blvd. If you want more information about Rotary or are interested in attending a meeting or joining, please email Tom or text him at 865-659-3562.