by Bobby Anderson
Christmas is coming. All you have to do is close your eyes and listen.
Amid all the hustle and bustle and mall parking lot tussles you can can hear the ringing of a familiar bell.
Some 127 years ago the Salvation Army started hanging kettles from Thanksgiving to Christmas.
Legend has it it first began as a fundraiser to feed people on Christmas Day.
A San Francisco Salvation Army officer remembered that during his days in the Navy a pot was kept on the dock.
The pot had a sign on it that read “Keep the pot boiling.”
“It started a tradition and it spread quickly across the United States,” said Maegan Dunn, development marketing manager for the Salvation Army Central Oklahoma Area Command.
And for the last quarter century, John Dobson has manned his post and rung that bell.
Full disclosure – Dobson serves on the group’s board of directors.
But it’s more than an obligation.
“Twenty five, twenty six, thirty – I don’t keep track of it. It’s just an act of love,” Dobson said of how many years he’s run that familiar bell and worn that red apron.
Dobson credits his volunteer spirit to a former boss.
“He told me I needed to take a look at life,” he said.
So as an accountant by trade he started picking up the annual financial reports of the various charities.
“Salvation Army just stood out there all by itself,” Dobson said. “It doesn’t pay its national president $2 million a year. It’s because they’re committed to Christ.
“Literally, it’s a church.”
Dobson quickly learned that every one of those employees wearing the military-looking uniforms are ordained ministers.
It speaks volumes.
Dobson rings for two organizations each season. The first is the Rotary Club of Oklahoma City. The second is as a Salvation Army board member.
“I promise, give me someone for an hour and I’ll make believers out of them,” Dobson said of the annual campaign. “The people you just know because of your life’s issues you just think these people can’t pay and they put these pennies and nickels in these kids hands and they come running up. You pick them up so they can drop them in there.
“They just thrive for that and they remember from year to year.”
Dobson always rings the bell at the same location each year – the Belle Isle Wal-Mart.
“It’s significant but it’s nothing close to everything we need,” Dobson said. “The Salvation Army goes on 24 hours a day, seven days a week 365 days a year. A lot of people just think of us as just Thanksgiving and Christmas but it’s full time for everybody.”
At any time during the holiday season the Salvation Army literally has thousands of bell ringers at the nearly 80 locations.
Rotary groups, businesses, churches – there’s groups that come out of the woodwork to get their hands on a bell.
But some of those positions can’t be filled with volunteers so some positions are paid.
“It’s not only to man the kettle but it’s also a ministry for us,” Dunn said. “There are individuals who have seasonal jobs where they don’t have work in the winter and it helps give them a little extra money. We also have some homeless individuals and it makes extra cash for them to help keep them through the next few months.”
It’s in his nature to be a bottom-line type of guy, but Dobson knows there’s much going on here than nickels, dimes and spreadsheets
“It’s a life-altering experience,” Dobson says. “It is amazing.”
There will be several volunteer opportunities this month with the Salvation Army including:
• Angel Tree Workshop: You can come help prepare each Angel’s gifts at the distribution center. For ages 13 and up. Dates: December 5-17
• Angel Tree Distribution: Help Angel Tree families collect their gifts and assist them to their vehicles. For ages 13 and up. This is a great opportunity for corporations, businesses and individuals. Dates: December 19-23
• Ring the Bell: Schedule your family, club or business to ring the bell at one of the red kettle locations for a four-hour shift or adopt a whole a day. This raises funds for The Salvation Army’s programs like the food pantry, senior centers, homeless shelter, youth and after-school programs, and soup kitchen. Dates: Through December 24.
To volunteer, contact Lt. Kyle Madison at kyle.madison@ uss.salvationarmy.org or 405-246-1063.
To find out more about how you can get involved, visit www.salvationarmyokcac.org/volunteer today. Questions about volunteering can be answered by contacting the volunteer coordinator, Liz Banks, at 405-246-1107 or liz.banks@ uss.salvationarmy.org.