Front Porch: Bell-ringing brings spirit of the holiday to volunteer

Dec 7, 2023

By Cindy Hval / For The Spokesman-Review

On Friday, I dug out my Christmas tree headband, Santa earrings and long underwear for my first stint as a bell ringer for the Salvation Army Red Kettle Campaign.

The snow fell in earnest as I arrived at Yoke’s on North Foothills Drive.

Salvation Army communications specialist Brian Pickering met me at the door, handing me a blue apron and a silver bell.

“It’s all in the wrist,” he said.

It took a few tries to find my technique – I’m an overhand ringer, not an underhand dinger. After a vigorous shake sent my bell flying into the slush, I modified my rhythm.

The experience reminded me of my book-signing experiences at bookstores. Folks who don’t want to buy a book (or drop some change in a kettle) tend to hurry past and avoid eye contact.

But my first donation of a few coins from an elderly gentleman in a worn jacket got me hooked on the joy of witnessing community care in action.

One woman smiled at my greeting but kept going, pushing her full cart through the parking lot. A few minutes later, she returned. She’d unloaded her groceries and then trekked back through the snow to push a generous wad of cash into the kettle.

A guy about my age said, “You should take debit cards!” as he hurried past.

He was gone before I could tell him about the online virtual red kettle.

The next offering came from a woman juggling her purse and a grocery bag. One by one, she counted out her coins as she dropped them into the kettle.

“That’s a dollar twelve,” she said.

“Thank you so much!” I replied.

She shrugged.

“You guys helped me last week.”

Helping is what it’s all about. From emergency foster care at Sally’s House to transitional housing through Stepping Stones to a youth center and a food bank, the Salvation Army is at the forefront of meeting the needs of those in crisis in our community.

The need for volunteer bell ringers is greater than ever, and this year signing up to help is as easy as a couple of clicks of your computer mouse.

The new Register to Ring website ( is a breeze to use. You can choose your location and your shift. The average stint is 2½ hours and you can ring alone or with friends or family.

“We have over 100 ringers, but we need 300,” said Gerriann Armstrong, Red Kettle Campaign coordinator. “We have 60 locations we staff six days a week.”

She said Spokane Valley, Liberty Lake and Cheney are especially in need of volunteers. Where they can’t staff volunteers, paid ringers fill in the gap.

“We’re encouraging community partners to come alongside us,” she said.

That’s because with the state’s rising minimum wage it’s counterintuitive to hire ringers for their biggest fundraiser of the year.

“We’re hoping to raise $400,000 this kettle season,” said David Cain, corps officer of the Salvation Army in Spokane. “We’re opening a new cold weather shelter for families.”

The funds raised stay in the area and help with day-to-day operations.

“It sustains us between grant funding,” Cain said. “We’re so grateful for the strong support of the community.”

As my shift drew to a close, a mom with two young boys and a baby in a carrier strapped to her chest paused. They had walked to the store to get baking supplies.

“Have you been a good boy this year?” I asked the smaller boy.

He nodded decisively as he dropped his coins in the kettle.

His big brother struggled with bulky gloves, and his quarters hit the ground. Quickly, retrieving them for him, I handed him each quarter so he could experience the satisfaction of sliding them through the slot and hearing them clink into the others.

“Merry Christmas!” he said, his eyes shining.

With that, I handed the bell to the next volunteer. My feet were cold as I walked through the snowy parking lot, but oh, my heart was warm.

Turns out, helping fill the kettle for the Salvation Army is a great way to fill your spirit with holiday cheer.


How to help

• To sign up for a bell-ringing shift, visit 

• Donations can be given online by visiting and clicking on the Virtue Red Kettle box, or by mail at The Salvation Army, 222 E. Indiana Ave., Spokane, WA 99207. If mailing a check, please earmark it “To the Salvation Army Spokane to be used in Spokane.”

Cindy Hval can be reached at Hval is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation” (Casemate Publishers, 2015) available at Auntie’s Bookstore and bookstores nationwide.

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