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Salvation Army is in need of a few good bell ringers

Wanted: A few people with strong voices, the ability to ring hand bells for a couple of hours and the fortitude to smile even when shoppers leaving stores turn their eyes.

Even if you don't have all of these qualities, Salvation Army officials say they would like more people to ring bells to ask shoppers to remember those facing hardships this holiday season.

"Businesses throughout the area have generously provided kettle sites, and we have been working behind the scenes to find bell ringers who will sacrifice their precious time," said Maj. Jerry Stinson, commanding officer at the Salvation Army here.

Stinson said his bell ringers come from a variety of places.

"We partner with local churches, schools, service clubs and even companies who volunteer their employees for a few hours," he said. "We also reach out to our retired citizens and college students."

The Red Kettle Campaign is a yearly effort which raises money to help local families and individuals in need.

Stinson leads his campaign by example.

"This will be my 38th year ringing bells since I first came to the Salvation Army," he said. He began ringing bells when he was about 12.

He said plenty of time slots remain for volunteers. Places where bells have been set up include the Wal-Mart and Sam's Club in the city, and Kmart and Tops in the Town of Niagara.

Without the volunteers and a few paid workers to ring the bells, Stinson said it is difficult to make all of the Salvation Army's programs work.

Only a few people get paid to ring the bells. "I've learned that the people that we pay, basically we're helping them to help themselves," Stinson said.

So far, Stinson said he has about a half dozen people who have volunteered their time and has a few more to follow up on.

The bottom line for the Red Kettle Campaign has dropped somewhat over the past few years. Bell ringers raised about $60,000 last year, $70,000 the year before and $80,000 in 2004, Stinson said.

"We raise what we can and go with what we have," Stinson said. Money raised goes to provide programming at youth centers, day camps and senior citizens' programs, as well as heat and electricity for a general equivalency diploma course held at the Salvation Army.

The Salvation Army's annual budget is $500,000. The center receives $30,000 from the United Way, and the rest comes through mail appeals, the kettle campaign and grants, Stinson said.

His wife, Maj. Susan J. Stinson, also has put in her time ringing bells. She estimated she's been ringing for as many years as her husband.

The couple arrived in Niagara Falls in July, so this is their first time recruiting volunteers for the city effort.

It's important work.

Judy E. Dixon, a volunteer with the Salvation Army and a former bell ringer, said she knows first hand how difficult times can be. The Salvation Army gave her father a food basket many years ago when their family was in need.

She also pointed out just how wonderful acting as a bell ringer made her feel.

"Sometimes helping someone else cheers us up, brings us joy," Dixon said.

The bell ringing will continue through Dec. 24. Anyone wishing to help can call the Salvation Army at 283-7697, or they can call the Red Kettle Center at (877) 764-7259, or go to and fill in the volunteer form online.

The Salvation Army in the City of Tonawanda also needs bell ringers, said Capt. Stephen Lyle, director there. To help, call 693-3110.


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