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Bells Toll For A Good Cause

Perhaps no one symbol of the generous spirit of the season is more iconic than the bell ringers of the Salvation Army’s “Red Kettle” brigades. These hardy fundraisers brave winter’s chill outside grocery stores and shops, a reminder to holiday shoppers that charity may begin at home, but it doesn’t end there.

In Garden City, the Mineola-Garden City Rotary Club, along with student volunteers from the Rotaract and Key clubs at Garden City High School, are taking the lead in supplying Red Kettle volunteers.

Students and individual volunteers will be manning the bells on Friday afternoon and Saturday,” “The generosity of this community is overwhelming,” says Robert Schoelle, Garden City’s village administrator who also happens to be president of the rotary, has lent his bell ringing skills to the cause for more than 25 years. “People really step up and give for the Salvation Army.” He praised the “kindness of King’s Market” at Franklin Ave. and 9th St., for hosting them.

Schoelle won’t be dressed up in reindeer antlers or a Santa hat, but, he notes dryly, “my red nose prevails throughout my duty.” While the volunteers are scheduled to work in teams, “many’s the hour I’ve stood alone,” he says. It’s not as effective for fundraising.

The support of lively, engaged volunteers is critical to the success of the Red Kettle drive, and especially this year, with the Christmas season shortened by a late Thanksgiving holiday compounding larger economic pressures. Music and youth, experienced volunteers know, boost donations. “When you add music to a Kettle, the giving is enhanced exponentially,” explains Major Philip Wittenberg of the Salvation Army’s Hempstead Citadel Corps. “And if there are small children, it really warms people’s hearts.”

The wintry chill isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either, when you’re trying to raise money. “People have more sympathy when you’re standing in the cold,” says Bill Moseley, a Salvation Army advisory board member who has been working the Red Kettle—often with his guitar, because it brings in “two to three times the donations”—for 25 years.

Garden City’s volunteers have experimented with venues for their red kettles. Outside a bar at happy hour turned out less lucrative than expected, and while they do put unmanned kettles into businesses such as banks, those don’t draw as much money as kettles with humans ringing the bells.

Although schools and civic organizations take the lead in providing bell-ringers, the organization easily accommodates solo volunteers as well.

“We get individuals that call and say ‘I want to teach my kids about service. Can we ring the bell for three hours at Roosevelt Field?’ and we always say ‘yes’,” explains Major Wittenberg. “With lots of people it has almost become a tradition.”

Dave Gil de Rubio contributed to this article.