ENGLEWOOD — The Salvation Army is recruiting bell ringers for the holiday season, and it hopes to get all volunteers to do the important work, but if it has to, it will pay people to do it.
The Charlotte County Salvation Army wants bell ringers to be 100 percent volunteers this year, compared with the 84 percent of volunteer bell ringers last year.
‘We need people to come out and help us out,’ said Carlos Osorio, social service specialist at the Salvation Army. ‘A lot of people are unemployed. Businesses are closing down. Families are suffering.’
Ringers are needed to volunteer from Nov. 9 to Dec. 24.
‘We need all volunteers,’ said Roy Kern, a four-year volunteer who is coordinating recruitment efforts for Charlotte County. ‘We think it makes a difference.’
Kern is hoping to sign up 340 to 350 bell ringers for Charlotte.
Mel Kugler, a four-year volunteer bell ringer, said paid bell ringers affect the dynamics of the organization.
‘When they pay people, they generally hire people who they’re helping,’ Kugler said. ‘They’re either homeless or they’re out of a job and people who are in that position. Some of them don’t have a place to bathe or anything, so they won’t look as good.’
Kugler said paid employees do not tend to their appearance and their attitudes are not as positive as volunteers due to their life situation — this affects donations.
‘They’re not as enthusiastic because they’re down on their luck,’ Kugler said. ‘Consequently when you have paid people ringing in the kettles, you get less money and you have to pay to have them there. It’s a double deficit. When you have volunteers, they’re usually very cheerful and upbeat with the people. We change them every two hours. When people are paid, they work the whole day as opposed to ringing the bell for just two hours — you’re probably well wore out. Most anybody who works eight hours, they’re going to be dead on their feet. With our volunteers, we got a lot more return per store than with paid people.’
Paid bell ringers earn minimum wage.
‘Let’s say we pay a person $80 per day and that person only collects $50 or $60,’ Osorio said. ‘It’s not like we can blame a single location, but it happens. If we have all volunteers, all of the money would be used to feed the people, give them clothes, helping out with rent. That’s what we’re trying to do.’
Don Mahon, a volunteer for two years, said he thinks paid bell ringers wouldn’t have the enthusiasm a volunteer would have.
‘If you’re on your feet and you have a smile, I think people are more inclined to give,’ he said. ‘I think it matters with people’s appearance.’
Mahon said he suspects the reason why people get paid to ring bells is the organization’s concern the kettles would be unattended if they weren’t.
‘It defeats the whole purpose of the kettle drive and Christmas for the Salvation Army,’ Mahon said. ‘They have to pay people and that dips into their fundraising efforts.’
Mahon, who has prior experience with the Salvation Army in Connecticut, said about 10 percent of the people who pass the kettles stop for a conversation. Some who have complimented the efforts of the Salvation Army included World War II and Vietnam veterans.
‘I have been ringing the bell for two hours every Thursday between Thanksgiving and Christmas outside Winn-Dixie,’ Mahon said. ‘You learn a lot about people in those two hours. There’s quite a few who relay experiences they or their family had with the Salvation Army and they praise their work, especially during tropical storms or hurricanes when they really need some help.
‘Then there’s the other side of the coin, there are people who have no intention of putting money into the pot. They refuse to make eye contact. They walk circles around you,’ he said. ‘It’s a lesson in human nature is what it is.’
To volunteer as a bell ringer, call 941-629-5950.