Familiar sounds abound each year during the holiday season.
Christmas songs piped into stores and the sidewalks outside. The crunch of snow beneath your footsteps.
One other sound as much as any other signals the arrival of the holidays.
Walk across the parking lot of most any shopping center and you’ll hear the bell. The sound greets you long before the ringer and Salvation Army donation kettle come into view near the store’s entrance.
Dozens of causes and groups are worthy of donations and volunteer time during the holiday season. The Salvation Army bell ringer is one of the most iconic symbols of holiday giving.
“It’s fun to see people react. Something about the bell gets people to dig into their wallet or pockets,” said Dave McDevitt, of Sioux City, who first volunteered to ring a bell last year and is doing so again this holiday season.
The bell ringer is a backdrop in countless Christmas movies and TV specials. Most everyone knows what that sound means.
What it means to the Salvation Army is a lot of work.
“We spend a lot of time scheduling people. It is a lot of energy,” said Capt. Chris Clarke, corps officer with Siouxland Salvation Army.
Online scheduling has made it easier for volunteers to choose when and where they’d like to ring, but there are still hundreds of time slots to fill.
Siouxland Salvation Army bell ringers began to staff kettles for two-hour shifts at 36 locations in Sioux City, South Sioux City, Sergeant Bluff and Le Mars on Nov. 8. They’ll do so from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. until Dec. 24.
That’s more than 15,000 hours to cover. Last year, volunteers filled only about 40 percent of that time, leaving many spots without a ringer for hours at a time.
“We need a lot more,” Clarke said. “When there’s no one there ringing, no one puts money in the buckets.”
The Salvation Army has been ringing bells for 120 years, he said, to collect donations to feed, clothe and shelter the needy among us. The coins and small bills shoppers drop in kettles provide 30 percent of the local Salvation Army’s annual budget, Clarke said. The volunteers posted at those kettles are vital to the fundraising effort’s success.
“It’s a great feeling knowing we have volunteers out helping us raise the funds we need to help people,” Clarke said.
Ringing the bells is a holiday tradition for some individuals, families and businesses.
For several years, North High School student council members have spent two entire Saturdays ringing at the Hy-Vee store on Hamilton Boulevard and the Fareway store on Indian Hills Drive. This year will be council president Eleanor Chalstrom’s fourth year of ringing. Of all the council’s service projects, this is the only one that’s mandatory. Every student must spend at least one two-hour shift at either location.
For Chalstrom, it’s a chance to take time off from a busy schedule and do something for someone else.
“You get to take a break, sit here, ring this bell and see people donate money to a good cause in our community,” the senior said.