The noisiest time of year: Salvation Army bell ringers out in full force in Beatrice

Whether the clanging sound in front of Wal-Mart conjures up warm Christmas feelings or has you reaching for an aspirin, the Salvation Army bell ringers, armed with their bright red kettles, are out in full force in front of Beatrice businesses.

Beatrice Salvation Army Lts. Joseph and Rachel Irvine have a platoon of bell ringers strategically placed around town to help raise money for people in need. With those unmistakable red kettles and shiny, silver bells, a team made up mostly of volunteers try to drum up support for the Salvation Army’s annual drive.

It all started in 1891, when a Salvation Army Captain in San Francisco wanted to provide a Christmas dinner for the poor. Grabbing a big pot, he set up out in front of the ferry terminal from Oakland and received enough donations to make dinner for 1,000 people.

The tradition spread, and by 1898, the Salvation Army kettle drives were providing Christmas dinners across the country from San Francisco to New York.

In 1894, the Beatrice Salvation Army got its start, and the organization has been helping the area’s poor, lonely, ill, elderly, imprisoned and otherwise unfortunate for nearly 125 years.

The bells were introduced in 1900 in New York and they’ve been chiming ever since.

On Thursday, Lyndon Wiegand and Elaine Richards were in front of Walmart in Beatrice, ringing their bells and greeting people as they came to do their shopping.

“It’s for a good cause,” Wiegand said, as he waved to a friend inside.

Wiegand has been collecting money for the Salvation Army for years, he said. These days, he’s parked in front of Walmart in his red apron from Monday through Thursday for a full day of bell-ringing.

Richards, who has been ringing bells for a few years herself, said sometimes she’s at Wal-Mart, but she volunteers to ring at Sunmart as well. She arrived outside of Wal-Mart on Thursday at about 1 p.m., and her kettle began filling up fast.

“I did it to help the people,” she said.

The Beatrice Wal-Mart is one of the key locations for the Salvation Army’s drive, Joseph said, but volunteers can’t be there until after Thanksgiving. That was part of the Salvation Army agreement, he said, and bell ringers work mostly in front of grocery stores.

“Wal-Mart makes such a huge difference with our kettle fundraising,” he said. “Everybody goes to Wal-Mart, so that's kind of where the biggest part of our kettle income is from.”

Typically, he said, the kettles are out every day from about 11 a.m. until 7 p.m., which is a prime fundraising time. If they’re out first thing in the morning, he said, they don’t really get much of a crowd, and, if they stick to the 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule, they’d miss the evening crowd doing shopping after work.

Community organizations like the Cub Scouts, 4-H, the Lions Club, Sertoma Club and many others often help collect for the Salvation Army. They’ve gotten huge volunteer support from the community, Joseph said, which goes right back into the community.

“The money raised here stays locally,” he said. “When we deposit it, it goes to Security First, that's who we bank with, and that's where we have our local accounts.”

Joseph Irvine is a third generation Salvation Army officer. His parents recently retired after 31 years and his wife, Rachel Irvine’s parents are nearly retired after 32 years.

A lot has changed in more than a century since the Salvation Army started collecting money in the kettles, and those changes can sometimes create trouble. The kettle system is reliant on people having cash in their pockets, but that’s one thing that seems to be going away, Rachel said.

“Some locations have had card machines at the kettle, that's an expensive thing to do,” she said. “But we do have one in our church store, so if people want to make donations that way, we can make that happen.”

This time of year is hectic for the Irvines. They typically work 10 to 12-hour shifts every day, on top of preaching on Sunday, Joseph said.

They even get in some bell ringing time, he said, though he typically plays the baritone horn instead of the bells.

Bell ringers know that people may find the sound annoying, and they typically can tell when you’re faking a call on your cell phone to avoid their gaze. But volunteers want people to know that it’s OK to say “hello” and not give any money.

That clang-clang-clang sound that gets stuck in your head when you walk into a store, also gets stuck in the bell ringers' heads at night, too, Rachel said. Even if it gets people annoyed, Joseph said, at least it got their attention.

“There have been people who tell a bell ringer they'll pay them $5 to stop ringing the bell,” Rachel said. “Then somebody comes behind them and says, ‘I'll pay you $10 to ring the bell.’”

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