Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Is SALAVATION ARMY 'a second chance' to help?

Want to be invisible? Ring bells at a Salvation Army [SA] kettle at Christmas time. I'm not kidding. It is like you don't exist.

For 23 years this coming Christmas, I've been ringing bells at Salvation Army kettles before Christmas. I love it. However, the majority of people who approach me look right past me like I didn't exist. I greet every passer-by; I try to be right friendly. People react in different ways, but typical is the 'ghost' response ... they pretend to not see me - and amazing how many people don't hear that bell, either. I didn't know there were so many deaf and hard-of-hearing people around.

So what keeps me going back year after year? "Second chances!" Yep; its the occasional miracle that happens right before my eyes. This past year was no exception. Take a load off your feet for a minute - set a spell and listen to my tale.
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Typical weather for the last two weeks before Christmas: cold, wet, spitting occasional snow flakes, breezy, uncomfortable - some years it is below zero and the heavy snow falls. I tend my kettle with care. I greet passers-by. I play Christmas carols on the portable cd player I bring along with me, hoping it will brighten others' spirits. I dress in 3 layers of clothing to stay warm and dry. I ring my bell to attract attention. I do all these things in hopes of raising a few extra dollars so the Salvation Army can help others in need during this special season.

My location is just outside the main entrance to a large supermarket - part of a regional chain. I have the opportunity to accept offerings from people as they enter and as they depart. Fortunately, some will stop and drop in their lose change - and occasionally someone will drop in paper folding money. I've worked at this location for, I don't know, somewhere between 8-10 years I guess. The vast majority of those passing by ignore me ... they ignore my greeting on entering ... they ignore my "Have a Happy Holiday" or "Merry Christmas" as they depart ... they ignore the attraction of my bell ... they ignore my red kettle which contains the meager hope a better Christmas for the ones the Salvation Army helps each year.

I am successful at making eye-contact with maybe 1/3 of them. I sincerely want to help them look interiorly for a moment and wonder why this stranger is standing our here in the cold and damp, ringing a bell for hours - I want them to think "If he is out here, there must be a reason." If they go that far, they may be inclined to drop their change on the way out. I think I grate on their conscience.


The ones with small children in tow are the ones I enjoy most. Mom or dad prepares to walk on by without acknowledging my presence - but the little ones see me and say 'hi' or wave at me ... then mom or dad tells them to 'Come-on, get over here, get inside...", all without lifting a head in my direction. There's something about looking at me that makes them afraid they'll fall under my magical powers and force them to see the kettle and force them to acknowledge the obvious - they're living well, and others are not - and they're not prepared to do that.

Every once in awhile the BIG one comes along ... the one that makes the year memorable. Here is last season's.

I'm standing there ringing my bell. A woman approaches with a young girl, 10-12 years old, in tow. Mom never looks at me, never acknowledges me. The little girl says 'Hi' and keeps going, following mother into the store. As the young girl gets to the entry door of the supermarket she stops. She turns around comes back toward me. She is bundled-up for the weather, gloves and all. She approaches me - I greet her with something like "Well, how are you tonight?" She doesn't respond immediately - she's trying to take off one of her gloves.

About this time I look to my right and note that mom has now seen that her daughter is not behind her any longer ... and mom is already inside the market. Mom turns on her heel and is immediately coming out the exit door.

The young daughter has now removed her glove and is reaching into her coat pocket. Mom is approaching and half-screams at her daughter, "What are you doing!?!" The daughter doesn't respond to mom - she doesn't look her way or anything. She is intent on what it is she is about to do. The mother stops short and in a half-fit observes.

A small coin purse is produced from the young woman's coat pocket; she opens it, removes a piece of paper money, and dumps some loose change into her hand.

"Mister, is this enough to buy some kid a Christmas present?", she asks as she extends her hand toward me. I observe a crumpled up One Dollar bill and a small amount of change. "It certainly is!", I reply, and direct her where to put the money in the slot on top of the kettle.

I look over towards the mother, expecting to see a woman in a rage. Instead, I see a grown woman weeping at the miracle unfolding before her eyes and in her previously hardened heart. As a matter of fact, I almost tear-up every time I relate this story - like now.

The little girl walks the several paces to her mother and remarks, "I just bought some kid a Christmas present." The mother stoops a little, gives her daughter a big hug, and smiles at me - me, the ghost. She lets go of her daughter, opens her purse, comes over to me and the kettle, finds and parts with several pieces of folding money. I have no idea of the amount, but it is HUGE compared to what she put in the kettle on her first pass.

So, there it is - my witness of an annual Christmas miracle. Every year there is at least one such event that speaks to me deeply of the reason I stand out there. Even if I am a ghost, I get so juiced-up doing this thing with the bell and kettle and all.
- - -
How do you feel about the Salvation Army? I read a recent article that stopped just short of saying we should not give to them. The reason? The writer claims the Army is long on helping, but short on doctrine - and doctrine has to trump everything.

Here in our county, the SA is one of the largest 'agencies' helping the poor. Other agencies make referrals to the SA. Is that enough to be an organization that you can support in good conscience?

Is their policy towards counseling women in an unwanted pregnancy one you can agree with? I questioned the local leader about this issue brought to my attention. His reply, "We are an international organization. We operate hospitals in many countries. Elective abortions are not performed in any of our hospitals." OK - but how do you counsel regarding abortion. Is stressing the seriousness of the procedure being considered enough? "Our counselors' first concern is the woman they are counseling." Hmmmmm - not the baby?

Now, can you still drop money in their kettle? I can.

Can you you ignore the 'good' insisting on the 'perfect'? I can't.

What say you?


Anonymous said...

I don't know about the Salvation Army. I don't deny them the right to exist and to try to help people, but they are a particular Christian sect, an ecclesial body separated from the fullness of the Church. Yet on the other hand, because they are Protestant, they can do things in this historically Protestant country that Catholics cannot. I just don't have a clear mind on this question.

Certainly the degree to which they participate in the conversion of donors, like the mother and daughter you described, is an important work of evangelization in this "post-Christian" culture.

Melody K said...

I had to examine my conscience and realize that at times I have walked on by as if the bell-ringer wasn't there. I usually give to the Salvation Army, but if I was not carrying any cash, I was embarrassed to make eye contact. I should at least say "Hi", and write my check in the store for a couple of bucks extra, and drop it in on the way out. Thanks for pointing out that it's pretty rude to treat someone as if they were a "ghost"!

uncle jim said...


That is music to my ears [harmony, of course - since you are...]

And as many as I pass by at all the many stores in the ares that allow them, I always look at them and greet them as I pass - I assure you: they hold no judgment on your passing without dropping money ... they are thrilled to be acknowledged.

And let your kids talk to them. Some of them are clients of SA, and do this as a way of earning a little extra for the hoidays - this in effect is employment. For most of us, however, and whenever SA can find enough of us, it is a volunteer effort.

Anonymous said...

I won't donate money to them because they are not 100% ProLife but they do run our food bank in town and I give food to that.

uncle jim said...

It is my understanding that the red kettle money goes specifically to Christmas time help of the needy - it does not go to their general operating funds. SA's many outreach programs put others to shame in scope. Their drug & alcohol rehab centers have saved many from a life of addiction. I, too, am disappointed in their lack of a 100% pro-life stance ... and I support their Christmas outreach. I have a friend who no longer 'rings bells' because of this potential abortion position.