DeKALB – Dora Utter-Rodriguez hears bells in her sleep.
Utter-Rodriguez rings a hand bell from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. each day outside the south entrance of the Walmart Supercenter on Sycamore Road in DeKalb. Standing next to the bright red Salvation Army kettle, Utter-Rodriguez has a smile and a greeting for every person entering or leaving the store.
“Good morning,” she said as woman on a cell phone hurried by her.
“It’s nice to see you again,” she said as a man leaving the store tucked a bill into the kettle. “Merry Christmas.”
DeKalb County Salvation Army Capt. Michael Cho said Utter-Rodriguez “really captures the spirit” of a Salvation Army bell ringer.
“It is very difficult,” he said. “It’s cold and you have to keep smiling.”
There are Salvation Army kettles at 14 locations in Sycamore and DeKalb, Cho said. The annual fundraising campaign began Nov. 16 and ends at 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve.
So far, he said, donations are tracking even with last year. In 2011, the Salvation Army broke its $70,000 goal by $6,000. This year, the goal is the same, in anticipation of slightly lower revenues, Cho said.
Few bell ringers return year to year, Cho said. This year, there are 15 “active” bell ringers, with 15 backup ringers in reserve. Most of them are ringing the bell for the first time and work shifts of noon to 7 p.m.
Eric Carlton, who rings the bell at Walmart’s north entrance, said this is his first year volunteering for the job, but he would like to do it again.
“I think I definitely will, unless I have a job and I can’t,” he said.
Carlton is between jobs now, which he figured left him plenty of time to volunteer.
“My grandma helps out at the (Salvation Army) food pantry,” he said. “She said they were looking for bell ringers, and I figured, why not? It seemed like something good to do with my time.”
Utter-Rodriguez is also a first-timer, though she said ringing the bell was something she always wanted to do. She said she enjoys the customer service aspect of the job.
“I like that we don’t have to ask for money. It’s their choice,” she said. “Sometimes people say they’re sorry when they don’t put money in, and I say, ‘I’m just here to make sure the kettle doesn’t get run off with and to say Merry Christmas. It’s your choice whether you put money in.’ A lot of them will put money in next time, because they don’t feel obligated.”
Carlton said he has gotten used to people ignoring his greetings, but those are “evened out” by the number of nice people he encounters.
As one woman emptied her change purse into the kettle last week, he joked with her about the number of coins.
“That’s a lot of change,” he said. “Like the president says, we all need a little change.”
Though the Salvation Army is a worldwide organization, all of the money raised in the kettle campaign stays local, Cho said. The campaign makes up about 11 percent of the local budget.
“The money donated is very effectively used,” he said. “One hundred percent of donations stay in DeKalb County, and throughout the year we help many people in need.”
Salvation Army Kettle Campaign
The Salvation Army Kettle Campaign continues until 5 p.m. Dec. 24. Kettles are out between noon and 7 p.m. most days at most locations; some times may vary. All donations stay in DeKalb County.
In DeKalb, kettles are located at: • Hobby Lobby, 2500 Sycamore Road • Inboden's, 1106 N. First St. • JC Penney, 2540 Sycamore Road • Jewel-Osco, 1320 Sycamore Road • Schnucks, 975 S. Annie Glidden Road • Walgreens, 100 W. Lincoln Highway • Walmart, 2300 Sycamore Road
In Sycamore, kettles are located at: • Browns' County Market, 403 E. State St. • Hy-Vee, 2700 DeKalb Ave. • Jewel-Osco, 220 W. Peace Road • Walgreens, 1340 DeKalb Ave.