DeKALB – The ring-a-ling of bells means that soon it will be Christmas day.
But in DeKalb County and locations throughout the United States, it’s not silver bells people are hearing, it’s the bells of ringers for the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign.
Kristy Blum of DeKalb is one of the Salvation Army bell ringers who braves the cold to stand outside stores as people finish their holiday shopping.
The Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign began in 1891. The money raised during the campaign is used to help throughout the year. The Salvation Army evaluates every local community and strives to meet the greatest need in each, whether it’s providing shelter, food, domestic abuse programs, or addiction recovery. In 2017, the Salvation Army reported raising $144.5 million during its Red Kettle Campaign.
Locations of bell ringers in DeKalb include Inboden’s, Jewel-Osco, Schnucks and Walmart. Locations in Sycamore include Blain’s Farm and Fleet, Hobby Lobby, Hy-Vee, Jewel-Osco and Walgreens.
While she was ringing her bell, Blum met with reporter Katrina Milton. Later, Blum spoke over the phone about why she braves the cold to help people in need.
Milton: Where and when do you bell ring?
Blum: I ring every day but Sunday. We start the week or so before Thanksgiving, and the last day we ring is Christmas Eve. So far, I’ve been to Schnucks, Inboden’s, Walmart, Hobby Lobby and Jewel Osco. I help out whenever they need me. This week, I helped out 40 hours. Shifts are four hours each, and I often do a double shift.
Milton: What is it like to be a bell ringer?
Blum: This is my first year, and I really didn’t know what to expect. I’m outside in the snow and the rain, but the weather doesn’t bother me. I love greeting people, saying hello. People always stop to talk. I enjoy meeting people, hopefully I can make them smile. I am as positive as I can be, and I’m out there with a smile on my face, because I know that what I’m doing is for a good cause.
Milton: Do you have a plan or rhythm when you’re ringing the bell?
Blum: I’ve realized that I do have a rhythm to ringing the bell. I just start ringing, and after a while, I don’t even realize I’m doing it.
Milton: How do you deal with the cold?
Blum: Sometimes I do get cold, but it’s worth it. I wear many layers and warm gloves. This week, I wore antlers, but with the wind, they kept trying to blow off. Next week, I’ll start wearing a Santa hat. I think it will be festive, and it will keep my head warm.
Milton: Do you have a new-found respect for other bell ringers?
Blum: I always admired bell ringers. Whenever I saw them outside a store, I always gave them some money. Now I think I appreciate what they do even more.
Milton: What do people say to you as they pass by?
Blum: People always ask if I’m warm enough. They ask if they can help by bringing a chair or stool. Some people ask if I can move indoors into the store, but I think it’s more convenient for the store and its customers to be outside. Many people thank me for saying “Merry Christmas.” I don’t think you hear it very much anymore. It’s nice to hear.
Milton: What is your response to passersby?
Blum: I say, “Thank you, Merry Christmas,” to everyone. A lot of people respond that they don’t have any cash on them, which is OK. I often don’t carry cash, either. I always tell them, “That’s OK, have a nice day. Merry Christmas.” Whether someone just wishes me a Merry Christmas or gives a penny, $20 or $100, I say thank you. Every penny helps people who don’t have much.
Milton: Why is it important for you to bell ring during the holiday season?
Blum: Christmas is special. I’m lucky because I have food in my stomach, a warm bed to sleep in and a roof over my head. But some people don’t have that. That’s sad, and it hurts to know that people need help. That’s why I ring my bell. I want to help people in need, and the money goes to such a wonderful cause. Sometimes people walk up to the store with a scowl on their face. My goal is always to make them smile. I just want to make people smile and help those in need.
For information about the Salvation Army, visit www.centralusa.salvationarmy.org/dekalb or call 815-756-4308.