They’re a true sign of the holiday season. The Salvation Army’s donation collectors, with their recognizable red buckets and ringing bells, are taking to the streets again.
In this time of Internet fundraisers and gifts-by-Twitter, why do they keep showing up in front of groceries and malls to greet passersby and collect coins? Here’s what a volunteer bell ringer who stands outside businesses in the Perimeter and Buckhead and a Salvation Army lieutenant who oversees collections in those areas had to say.
Bell ringer Walter Long, a tall, talkative 53-year-old, first volunteered to collect for The Salvation Army last year. This year, he’ll be back, manning his red bucket and ringing his bell about three days a week at various locations around Buckhead and Brookhaven. His enthusiasm for the job shows. “I really enjoy it,” he said one recent afternoon as he collected donations outside a Brookhaven grocery. “It’s a great way to volunteer.”
Q. Why do you do this?
A. It can really be fun. You can brighten up people’s days. People donate and they know they’re helping. People see this kettle and it’s nostalgic. I can’t tell you how many come by this bucket and say, ‘This is my Number One charity.”
Q. How do people react when they see you standing here with the bell and bucket?
A. Ninety-nine percent of the people love us. The other 1 percent love us, too, they just don’t know it yet. Half the people who put money in this bucket they say, “Thank you. Thank you for ringing the bell.’ For some people, who are lonely during the holidays, this really brightens their day… The smiles you get. It can be rewarding. After you do this for a day, you feel rewarded. It’s really refreshing.”
Q. What’s the oddest thing you’ve seen while collecting?
A. Last week, there was a guy. He looked homeless. He was carrying his backpack and he comes and puts a whole jar of coins in my basket. It’s just amazing, the generosity. Beneath it all, we are soldiers of Christ. You see it come out in people at this time of the year. It pulls us together as a community.
It picks me up. Life’s different for everybody, but when you give to others, it’s a pick-me-up.
Lieutenant Stephen Correira works as an assistant corps officer for the Atlanta Temple Corps of The Salvation Army. The 38-year-old watches over red bucket collections at 38 locations in the Perimeter, Buckhead and parts of DeKalb County. Last year, the bell ringers collected $194,000 in his area, he said. His goal for 2013 is $200,000.
Q. How important is the bell-ringer program to The Salvation Army?
A. This is our single, largest annual fundraiser of the year. The funds generated at these locations give us 80 percent of our total revenue.
Q. With so many other ways to collect contributions, why continue to do it this way?
A. This is nostalgic for people. They look forward to seeing the red buckets. People are donating online as well, but the vast majority of our donations is happening at these kettles.
The need is great. The need for our services keeps going up. In metro Atlanta alone, we served 104,000 nights [for homeless people]. We helped 54,000 people with rental, food, Christian assistance.
Q. Don’t the buckets and bells seem a little old-fashioned?
A. If it was old-fashioned and out of date, we wouldn’t be standing here.