by Bobby Anderson, Staff Writer
For Lois DeBerry, the sound of bells ringing next to the Salvation Army Red Kettle during the holidays always meant a time of joy.
It was only when she got older did she learn those bells also symbolized mercy, generosity and the goodness of mankind.
Now the Canadian County Service Director for the Salvation Army, DeBerry counts on those bells to ring throughout the season so seniors won’t be forgotten.
DeBerry’s job description is whatever hat she needs to wear she puts on.
“It depends on what role needs to be played whether it’s a janitor or taking clients to appointments,” DeBerry said. “My goal here is to serve the needs as it comes available and it’s not just the low-income family.”
“Seniors became my heart out there. We have so many programs that focus on family and children. Nothing pulls at the heart strings like a child being hungry. A senior being hungry or not having a coat pulls on my heart strings.”
And while so many focus this season on families and children, DeBerry makes sure seniors aren’t forgotten.
“Seniors are not taken care of as well as a family is (this time of year),” she said. “As we get older we need more attention. The seniors are more proud and do not always ask for help.”
That’s why most of DeBerry’s clients come from referrals. Maybe a neighbor or friend has noticed something and passed the need along.
Under DeBerry’s watch, the Salvation Army will provide a gift to the 600 seniors living in assisted living, nursing homes or low-income housing in Canadian County.
“Just a way to say ‘you’re being thought of,’” DeBerry says.
There’s also a senior Silver Bell Tree. This invitation-only program focuses on those with the greatest need.
“We don’t have a vast place we can go and put up an angel tree or silver bell tree and get people adopted like they do in OKC in the mall,” DeBerry said. “We provide them with a clothing outfit through that program as well as a household need and a want.”
Sometimes its as simple as a new quilt for their bed or a can opener or a coffee pot.
“It’s always basic necessities they request,” DeBerry said, noting 21 seniors will be among the recipients this year.
DeBerry is on her 35th year with the Salvation Army. She’s worked in all different avenues in five different states.
Wherever she goes, the need never ends.
“Those that come in that want to change,” DeBerry said of her favorites. “By that I mean they come in and request assistance but they’re not here for a handout, they’re here for a hand up and wanting to know what they can do to change.”
Some clients come in for the first time after an emergency – a death out of state that required funds to travel, a big electric bill or unexpected medical bill.
“When something like that happens you don’t want them to do without or lose their lights because they choose to go respect a loved one,” DeBerry said.
“It’s such a wonderful feeling to be a part of the relief process and helping them.”
For Canadian County, the main need right now is people. Every penny raised in the Red Kettle program goes back into the community.
Bell ringers are not paid and if bells aren’t ringing money isn’t coming in.
DeBerry said there is a severe shortage of bell ringers in both Yukon and El Reno during weekday evenings as well as Saturdays.
To help out or find out more about ringing the bell you can go online to register at redkettlevolunteer.org. You can also call DeBerry at 405-323-8846 or 405-295-2343. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Those bells will always be near and dear to her.
“The bells ringing – I started that when I was a little girl and didn’t really understand. I’ve worked for the Salvation Army for 35 years but I started as a character building program and rang bells,” DeBerry said. “As a girl I didn’t understand, I just knew it was a time to go out sing and dance and have fun at the kettle. Now it’s about the Lord instilling in you. Sometimes ringing the bell is all I can do.”
“Ringing the bells goes back to the grace of God and the mercy He provides us. It reminds us of his coming and that was all about being there to impact peoples’ lives.”