While walking out of stores this holiday season, shoppers might hear a ringing bell.
In an annual tradition, Salvation Army bell ringers are manning red kettles at 27 locations in Johnston and Harnett counties.
The bell ringers are the Salvation Army’s main source of funding, said Commanding Officer Leo Gagné. “It gives us the funding to be able to do our programs throughout the year,” he said.
From late November through December, the ringers stand beside kettles where people can drop donations. Many bell ringers are volunteers; often, they come from civic clubs that work with the Salvation Army to staff bell-ringing shifts. Other bell ringers are paid, which helps people in the community who need a job.
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At the start of each day, the bell ringers come to the Salvation Army building in Smithfield for fellowship, Gagné said. “They realize they’re doing something for the community,” he said.
Gagné hopes to raise $100,000 through the kettles this year.
Michael McIntyre, a paid bell ringer armed with an infectious smile, engages people as they approach from the parking lot. “How about you?” he says. “See, that smile is contagious right there.”
McIntyre said the job is all about spreading smiles. “I was blessed with a big mouth and a good personality, and I just love getting to talk,” he said. “It’s about smiles. It’s Christmastime. We’ve got to love each other. That’s what it’s about.”
The seasonal job has helped McIntyre and his wife in their move to North Carolina from Pennsylvania. “The Salvation Army is helping us out get into our own place,” he said. “We had nothing. We were living out of a car.”
People respond to McIntyre with laughter, smiles and often donations, even though he doesn’t ask for the money directly. “Whether they donate or not, I still tell them, ‘Thank you and God bless you and have a wonderful Christmas,’ you know, because that’s what it is,” he said. “And then I get them to smile.”
This year, the Salvation Army will provide food to about 400 families at Christmas. Gagné said he hopes to expand the charity’s programs throughout the year.
The Salvation Army also has its own angel tree program. Businesses and organizations across Johnston and Harnett counties are helping around 900 kids this year, said Becky Gagné, Leo Gagné’s wife.
People pick a paper boy or girl from a Christmas tree and then buy clothes and toys based on the information on the paper – the child’s first name, clothing sizes and wish list. Just before Christmas, the families of the children pick up the gifts at the Salvation Army.
Johnston Animal Hospital in Smithfield has a tree with eight paper boys and girls. Owner Mike Ward said his staff decided to host the tree rather than exchange gifts with each other.
“(It is an) opportunity to help a child be sure they have a Christmas and to enjoy the Christmas season,” he said, adding that he wants to support the Salvation Army. “This time of year is the season of giving.”
The Salvation Army still needs businesses to claim about 50 kids’ names.