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Ringing in the holiday spirit

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

By Lynn A. Wade

Nevada Daily Mail

The familiar red kettles and the sound of ringing bells can be found in Vernon County this holiday season, thanks to the many volunteers that make it all happen. More volunteers are needed, though, for bell ringing, and board member Greg Hoffman says he's confident that local people will step up to the kettle for bell ringing and for the upcoming Salvation Army Christmas shopping event for local children facing hardship.

Hoffman said the group typically raises about $30,000 each year, and "all of the money we raise in Vernon County stays in Vernon County." The local group has an all-volunteer board, and bell ringers also are all volunteers, a contrast to the groups in big cities where bell ringers must be hired. Here, the challenge is mostly in the coordinating it all; finding volunteers isn't difficult, because, "they're good about coming forward. We let 'em know we need 'em and they come out of the woodwork," so there's no local overhead for the group to pay, he said.

High school clubs like the Spanish Club, the Renaissance Club and others, as well as local 4-H groups have helped a great deal this year, as have others in the community.

Salvation Army funds pays for all sorts of needs, and the distribution process is handled through Community Outreach, to avoid overlap with other services and to discourage possible abuses of the system. Funds pay for such things as energy assistance, transportation, temporary housing "when somebody needs to be put up for a night or two," and more. "It's pretty wide open. It's whatever the need is," Hoffman said.

Bell ringers are active at Wal-Mart on Fridays, 4-7 p.m., Saturdays, 9 a.m.-5 p..m.; and Sundays, noon-5; and at Ramey's Village Market and Woods Supermarket, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturdays.

"We started at Wal-Mart the weekend before Thanksgiving," and the toughest weekend to fill already is behind them. "The weekend after Thanksgiving is always the toughest to fill," because people are traveling, or shopping, or involved with other activities.

"We'll do it until Christmas Eve, when we'll ring until 3 p.m. People that do it, regardless of the weather, say it's something that really puts them in the spirit," of the holidays, Hoffman noted; adding that it's sometimes the people who seem like they could use help themselves who are most likely to donate. The stories donors sometimes share are heartwarming, too, Hoffman said.

"I've been on the board for 20 years. People will stop and tell us how when Dad was in World War I, the Salvation Army was there, doing wonderful things," Hoffman said.

Christmastime also brings a special event for the Salvation Army and for dozens of local children. Each year, there's a Salvation Army Christmas shopping event that serves 60-90 local children. Schools identify families with need, and volunteer shopping buddies meet the group at Wal-Mart for the early-morning event, in which each child shops for gifts for everyone in the household. There's usually about a $15 limit per gift, and children bring lists that include sizes and wishes. When the list is fulfilled, the children go have breakfast with Santa while the shopping buddy finds a gift for the child. The gifts are purchased, wrapped by volunteers and sent home with the children. This year, the event will take place at 6 a.m., Dec. 8. "We used to do it before the store was open;" but now the store's open 24 hours, so the group tries to conduct the event when it won't be disruptive to other shoppers.

Volunteers are needed for this effort, too; and Hoffman said that for this event, there's not a formal list -- anyone who shows up to help is put to work.

"Those times when we haven't had a shopping buddy for everyone, the kids just wait a little while," while shopping buddies shop with another child, then the shopping buddy simply shops again.

Hoffman said some of those regularly involved with the effort in various roles -- Anita Ryan, Jennifer Yarsulik, Amy Henry and Angie Nichols -- "have it down to a science."

Those who want to volunteer should just show up a little before 6 a.m. and pitch in.

"You'll have the time of your life," Hoffman said.

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