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Chimes Of Salvation

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 Massapequa, Bill Moseley has manned the kettle with guitar in hand at the Westfield Sunrise mall for more than 20 years. Strumming festive Christmas music to entice donations out of crowd-weary shoppers can be difficult, but for Moseley it is all in the spirit of goodwill for the less fortunate.

Moseley, who grew up in Seaford and now lives in Farmingdale, got involved with the kettle brigades after he joined the Kiwanis Club of Massapequa in 1986. A handful of years after joining, he learned how music an increase donations.

“In the summer of 1993, then Major Paul Carlino came to our club to speak about the Salvation Army, which I knew little about,” said Moseley, a Salvation Army advisory board member. “What caught my ear was that donations can increase two to three times with music at the kettle.”

And that music can be a band, quartet, singing group — or just him with his voice and guitar. This holiday season, Moseley’s kettle brigade set up at the fountain at center court first floor in front of JC Penny at Westfield Sunrise. There he strummed and sang each Saturday from morning to night.

Moseley said they average $300 to $600 in donations each Saturday in December, raising well over $1,000 for the month. He said much of it wouldn’t be possible without cooperation from the mall and current mall manager Carolyn Schaedel.

“It’s a true blessing the mall has allowed us in all these years,” he said, adding that his team uses softer bells when ringing indoors. “We do whatever we can to smooth it over with the mall. If we lose a location, it’s tough.”

However, outdoors is where the real action is for Moseley, as the wintry chill is not necessarily a bad thing when you are trying to raise money.

“People have more sympathy when you’re standing in the cold,” he said. “And if I make eye contact with people, they are more likely to put something in. They’re out shopping, they’re in a festive mood and they’ve got children with them. They’re the types that donate. People are mostly generous, but it really depends on the crowd.”

But the Salvation Army’s kettle brigade goes beyond Massapequa.

In Levittown, the Key Club of Gerald R Claps Career and Technical Center is taking the lead in supplying Red Kettle volunteers. Standing outside the King Kullen on Hempstead Turnpike on a very frosty Saturday, the students sang and cavorted in holiday get-ups.

“We’re a little different,” said Key Club faculty advisor Lillian Creedon. “Working with high school students, I wanted to distract them from the cold, so I have them all dress up and we sing holiday songs. It draws a lot of people in.”

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.

“With the exception of last year, the Claps Key Club has supported the Salvation Army’s holiday fundraising drive in Levittown for more than a decade,” said Creedon. “But it’s not their only holiday effort to help the needy. The school district participates in an adopt-a-family giving program, with student groups banding together to buy gifts and supplies for families that social workers have identified as being especially needy.

“Some students said they wanted to [adopt a family] on their own,” Creedon said. “That’s unusual.”

But, she said, students could see the privation behind the anonymous requests. One family had a 9-month-old child, and their wish list included food for the baby.

“That’s heart-wrenching,” Creedon said. “It’s nice to see these kids, how they look at the list, and they really care for those in need.”

One student recruited her mother’s office to sponsor a family; another persuaded her mom to supply diapers.

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

Moseley added that the Salvation Army is always looking for volunteer bell-ringers, even during the Christmas off-season.

“We go to a lot of the colleges for volunteers,” he said.  “The younger generation is eager to help.”

For more information on the Salvation Army’s many donation programs, visit www.satruck.org.

— with additional reporting by Steve Mosco