Every Time a Bell Rings

Volunteer bell ringers hope you’ll keep those red kettles filled.
Joe Eilers and his son Henry have established a tradition of ringing bells for the Salvation Army at Jerry’s Foods in Edina.

Even on the most blustery days, Salvation Army bell ringers stationed by big red kettles can be found around Edina, from the day after Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve. Many of these volunteer bell ringers are your friends, family members and neighbors.

A true commitment to the cause, a desire to help the community, and a chance to deepen family ties and reach out to others motivates volunteer bell ringers. These hearty souls brave the cold, the wind and the snow to give something back. For many, the Salvation Army exemplifies the true spirit of holiday giving.

Bell ringing adds a feeling of festivity to a grocery store during the holiday season, according to Randy Drescher, store manager of Jerry’s Foods in Edina. “It’s a social event. All of a sudden, one or two members will sing, and pretty soon you have a gathering singing. It does set the stage for thanks.”

The Edina-based grocery chain has a long tradition of supporting charities. Late owner Jerry Paulsen was committed to giving back to the community. His line of stores, including Jerry’s Foods, Cub Foods and others raised more than $350,000 last year for the Salvation Army, says Carol Jackson, Jerry’s corporate manager.

That legacy continues this holiday season with the volunteers who ring bells. “They do it as a family. Parents teach their children the act of giving,” says Jackson.

Lund Food Holdings is another business supporter of the Salvation Army’s bell-ringer program. “We’ve been partnering with them at Byerly’s Edina and many of our other locations for more than four decades. It’s a natural partnership for us. As a local food retailer, we’re deeply committed to being a strong community partner,” says Aaron Sorenson, communications manager.

Bell-ringing has turned into a fun holiday activity for Edina residents Barry and Joe Eilers and their kids, Henry, 7, and Gracie, 9. They divide into a boys’ and a girls’ team to see who can get the most donations. “We set a goal and it becomes a competition—it helps the time pass,” says Barry Eilers. “We usually try to get 50 people to donate during every half hour.”

Once, the kids received a hundred-dollar bill from a donor to put into the kettle. That high dollar amount made a big impression on them. Still, as volunteers, their reward goes far beyond the dollars raised. “We get a lot of thank-yous. We get a lot of smiles, and that’s good enough,” Eilers says.

An Edina resident since 1974, Peggy Johnson loves the community’s giving spirit. She rings bells with her husband Frank, who initiated their volunteering with the Salvation Army more than 10 years ago. “He would come back so cold but happy, and I thought ‘I’d like to try this,’” says Peggy. “It’s a wonderful thing for a couple or friends because you talk to each other.”

The Johnsons play the part by wearing red, dressing warmly and sharing their deep-rooted respect for the Salvation Army. During their shift, they make a point to meet and greet others. “The [Salvation] Army has placed us at stores where we run into people we know, and that makes all the difference,” says Johnson.

A veteran five-year bell ringer, Patty Latham is an enthusiastic Salvation Army supporter. For an activity that fosters quality time, she volunteers with her son, Tyler.

Latham encourages other mothers to bell-ring, especially with their high schoolers or college-age children, for an ideal bonding activity. “I get way more out of it than I give. You leave happier than when you came, even though your feet are cold,” says Latham.

This year, Latham would like to see people donate even more money to the Red Kettle campaign. “If every person threw in a quarter each time, what a difference it would make,” she says.

According to Annette Bauer, community relations director for the Salvation Army, an hour of bell-ringing can raise enough money to shelter a homeless person for a night and serve them three nutritious meals. Bell-ringing donations collected in Edina and nearby areas amount to one-third of the Christmas campaign contributions for the Twin Cities Salvation Army.


To register for bell ringing, call the Salvation Army at 651.746.3519 or sign up online at registertoring.com.