Tuesday, August 11, 2020
Gerry Gunderson, of Owatonna, rings the bell at Hy-Vee Grocery store in one of his dozen shifts as he volunteers his time. Staff photo by Anna Segner

Calling all volunteers with holiday spirit

With less volunteers ringing bells near the red kettles in local store fronts, Steele County’s Salvation Army has raised much less money than it has in past years.

This year, Black Friday donations to the Red Kettle campaign only amounted to about one-third of funds raised last year. In 2014 Black Friday donations reached $1,610 total, and this year only $566 was raised on Black Friday. 

The decrease in money raised is directly correlated to less volunteers. “Our bell ringers are down, so our donations are down,” said Social Services Director Gina Shepherd. 

“People see volunteers having fun out there, they hear bells and feel the Christmas spirit,” said Regional Thrift Store Manager Sarah Pirkl. “People see people and they are more willing to drop some pocket change after grocery shopping. It’s about that presence.” 

This year is not the first year that has had a rough start to the campaign. In the past, rough starts have recovered, but it takes volunteers for success. 

The campaign runs from before Thanksgiving to Christmas. Shifts are available in two hour periods. Bells are rung between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. during the week and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. 

There are still many open two-hour shifts available. To sign up, call 507-413-6700. 

The red kettles are placed primarily in Owatonna at various shopping locations, including Cash Wise, Hy-Vee, Fareway, Fleet-Farm, Wal-Mart, Sterling Drug, Walgreens and Cabelas. There are also miniature kettles placed at local businesses.

Some kettles are placed indoors, while some are outside. “To be honest, those chilly locations bring in the most dollars,” laughed Shepherd. “Those locations are busy with a lot of people coming in and out.” 

Pirkl and Shepherd find themselves bell ringing when they are not in the store working. “When I am out in the cold ringing the bell, I always think about how I can go home and make hot chocolate, slip into a warm pair of fuzzy slippers and warm up. Some people don’t have that luxury,” said Pirkl. “I can ring the bell a few hours in order to bring some of those basic necessities to others. 

 “Young, old, families, all are welcome to ring bells. We can accommodate needs, whether they need a chair or need to be indoors,” said Pirkl. “If you can sit and shake a bell, we need you. It’s so easy and so important.”

Eighty-seven cents of every dollar donated stays local. 

“Every dollar that comes into the organization, we truly remember the donor and think ‘is this where the donor would like their dollar spent?” said Pirkl. “Being in the office at Salvation Army is such a privilege—to have the responsibility of making the executive decisions of someone else’s good will. We take that seriously. Our mission is to do the most good.” 

The Red Kettle campaign funds Salvation Army’s charitable action and programs for the year. 

Army helped 699 families in Steele County through the Crisis fund, money raised from the Red Kettle campaign. The fund helps families with basic necessities, such as warmth, shelter, hunger and clothing. 

Salvation Army’s fall backpack program provided 850 kids in Steele County with brand new backpacks full of school supplies. 

Another activity in the fall was the Shop with a Cop program. Twenty-two children were granted money from Salvation Army to spend shopping for school clothes with the shopping advice from local law enforcement. The program is designed to build relationships between local youth and law enforcement. 

Thirty-seven children from Steele County were sent to a five-day summer camp for free. Pirkl and Shepherd spoke to the camp’s value in developing strong self-esteem and strong ethics. 

This past year was the first year that the Salvation Army offered healthy cooking classes for those on a tight budget. The class was offered twice last year, and it teaches families how to make a healthy meal serving four people with ingredients amounting to only $10. 

They also have a program that donates steel-toed boots to individuals beginning a career in industry or manufacturing. This is a partnership between Owatonna Shoe and Salvation Army. 

 “Owatonna has a lot of industrial job openings and many that want to fill those positions have the barrier of not being able to afford that start up with the steel-toed boots,” said Shepherd. 

In total, Salvation Army served 2,646 community members this year alone. Those individuals were helped because of the dollars donated to the Red Kettle campaign.

In 2014, the Red Kettle campaign raised about $70,000 and 2013 gathered $81,000. The Salvation Army hopes to help just as many individuals if not more, but they can only help with the funds that they receive through the Red Kettle campaign. 

“Owatonna has always been such a kind and giving community, so we are hopeful that we can turn this around,” said Pirkl. “We need volunteers. It is the time of giving, and nothing says Christmas like the ringing bells.” 

Steele County Times & DCI

Steele County Times
411 E. Main St.
P.O. Box 247
Blooming Prairie, MN 55917

Dodge County Independent / ADvantage
121 West Main St.
Kasson, MN 55944

Dodge County Printing
121 West Main St.
Kasson, MN 55944


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