Ringing the bell, again... and again
The day after Thanksgiving, I resumed what has become an annual tradition (if the word “annual” means two years in a row): I stood beside a red kettle and rang a little bell thousands of times. Yes, that was me, from 11 a.m. to noon last Friday, standing outside the main entrance to Kroger (sometimes referred to on this page as Kroger World). This year, as is the case in so many aspects of our lives, bell-ringing was a bit different, thanks to you know what. Volunteers are only staffing the kettles 10 days this year, and they’re doing so outside, standing several feet away from the kettles and armed with hand sanitizer and medical grade masks. My shift began days before my shift, with erstwhile volunteer Peggy Carter Seal (aka PCS) calling twice to remind me not to forget, then again Thanksgiving night to say that our solicitations would take place outside this year, and that I should dress accordingly. Here’s how it went. (I took notes.) 10:55: PCS shows me the kettle, the $5 credit card machine, the hand sanitizer, and the medical grade mask. I choose to save that mask and keep the blue and white cloth one I’m wearing because it’s slightly more flattering. 11:01: I wonder how rapidly to ring the bell – do I speed up if people appear to be about to donate, or will that scare them off? 11:07: A man begins measuring the sidewalk. His stated reason for doing so I cannot divulge, but it appears to be a legitimate survey and not just a way to exchange witticisms with a bell ringer wearing a blue and white cloth mask. 11:10: First donation! (I was beginning to wonder about the pace of my bell ringing.) 11:11: A postal carrier stops by. We thank each other for our service. 11:15: I ditch my jacket. 11:16: A second person contributes on the way out, which I nearly miss, as mask-related glasses-fogging is becoming a problem. I ditch the glasses. 11:18: Several people veer well around me and my kettle, despite the fact that I’d showered that morning. I resolve not to take it personally. 11:20: A man stuffs a $20 bill inside the kettle. I notice the denomination only because it wasn’t stuffed all the way inside. I finish stuffing. 11:23: I wonder if the incessant tinkling of the bell is scaring people away, like birds when approached by a cat wearing a bell-equipped collar. 11:27: A man leaves the store with enough toilet paper to supply a large family or small army for a month. 11:28: A woman gives her young daughter money to put in the kettle, the girl says hello, and her mom says, “Thank you for doing this.” I thank them both. 11:33: PCS exits Kroger after doing a little post-shift shopping. I tell her I hope to write a funny column about my experience. She responds, “Well, most of yours are funny.” 11:34: The bell ringing pace experiment continues, and I realize it’s nearly impossible to simulate the rhythm of a waltz. 11:36: A man jokes, “You’re gonna have to buy a bigger bell, I think.” I’m not sure what he meant by this. 11:37: A woman gives her two young children money to stuff in the kettle. I thank all three of them. 11:42: A woman explains that she wants to donate, but doesn’t have any cash. I show her how to use the credit card machine attached to the kettle, but the sunlight is so bright that neither of us are sure if the $5 transaction went through. Operator error on my part. 11:44: Midway City Councilmember Stacy Thurman and her equally-charming daughter Clara come by. I tell Clara, 10, that I’m the guy who covers the smart things her mother says in council for the Sun. Stacy jokes, “Not very many.” 11:46: A man puts out a cigarette in an ashtray just a few feet from the kettle, and I wonder what would have happened if he’d mistaken the latter for the former. 11:47: I’ve finally settled on “Merry Christmas!” as my salutation to donors and those I’m still working on. 11:54: I have no idea what I wrote in my notebook at this moment. Apparently, I was distracted by my volunteer duties. Noon: My shift ends and I’m relieved, so to speak, for three reasons: Nothing went terribly wrong (including the kettle catching fire); the person relieving me has, quite literally, arrived; and, after several cups of coffee before my shift, I need to … well, you get the rest. Merry Christmas, y’all – and please don’t forget to stop by Kroger World and help the Salvation Army continue its good work in Woodford County.