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GUEST COLUMN: Lessons learned as a first-time bell ringer

Christmas has never been one of my favorite times of year. I never could put a finger on it.

For me, it has always been a depressing time of year. I don’t know if it is the cold or the long periods of darkness. Perhaps I see too many people I perceive as having too little.

This year it started off worse as I became frustrated with the people who supposedly represent me in Springfield and Washington talking about what their constituents elected them for. What they are saying I elected them for rarely matches what I am thinking and seeing.

This year I decided to do something different to get through the season and saw an ad to become a bell ringer for the Salvation Army. Since I never do anything half way and just do a short three-hour stint, I instead signed up for eight hours a day, five days a week. Since I’m retired I have not worked a 40-hour week in almost eight years, so this could have been a challenge. (I’m sure many might argue I never worked a 40-hour week when I wasn’t retired!)

I have now been at it for more than five weeks. It has made a real difference in my attitude and has taught me more than a few lessons. For one, I have learned that when I have passed a Salvation Army bucket in the past and not put a small contribution in it, I am a minority. Most people find it hard to pass the bucket and search for even small amounts of change to put in. They often go in many stores and pass by many buckets, but always put a few cents in them. It all adds up and goes to help those in need.

Who is it that puts money in the bucket? It’s old and young. It is men and women. It is small kids with change in a plastic bag. It’s middle school kids coming in the store waiting for a ride or getting a snack. It’s people needing crutches or a cane to make it over to my corner or carrying a small tank of oxygen. It is people I often have to take a deep breath and hold back a tear because they appear to be more in need of receiving help than extending what little they have to help someone else. Often times they may share a brief story how the Salvation Army helped their parents back in the time of the Depression.

I really like the parents and grandparents who pass along the concept of giving by having the children put the donation in the bucket. When they do, I cannot pass up a chance to reward those children by letting them ring my bell after they drop their coins in.

For me, it has been heart warming because of the small 20- or 30-second conversations I have had with hundreds of people who see Christmas as a time of giving and sharing and helping someone whom they perceive as being less fortunate than themselves.

Would I do this again? Would I endure the prospect of cold weather, snow and wind? Absolutely! It is the best thing I can do to help a multitude of people with my limited resources.

What would I tell others? I would tell them to give it a shot. Not eight hours a day, five days a week. Volunteer for a short stint. Bring your children along. It won’t kill you and you’ll feel better for it knowing that you have helped many people to have a better Christmas as well.

Lastly, I would tell those legislators, congressmen, and perhaps a governor or president to do the same. No photo opportunities! Just put on some old clothes, sneak out the back door and ring the bell for two or three hours. Who knows? Perhaps they would develop a little empathy and a little different view of just who they really represent.

Merry Christmas!
  • RICH ESCUTIA lives in Ottawa.

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