MIAMI – Ringing bells mean those in need will eat, and be kept warm. The sounds of bells ringing to greet shoppers as they search for gifts is a holiday tradition and the major fundraiser of the year for the Salvation Army Miami Service Unit.

Volunteer bell ringers are needed greet shoppers as they drop money in the red kettles at the two entrances of the Miami Walmart and the Marvin's Foods store, collecting money for the agency, which focuses on emergency assistance for families and individuals.

Starting today, bell ringers are needed from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily at each location in shifts of two hours each through December 24.

To schedule a time to volunteer, those interested may call the Volunteer Coordinator for the Red Kettle fundraiser, Anna Edwards, at 918-541-5129 or on Facebook at “Miami OK Bell Ringer.”

Monday through Friday time slots are more difficult to fill because people are in school or working, according to Edwards. To fill those voids Edwards uses NOCA (Northeastern Oklahoma Council On Alcoholism) clients.

“I can call NOCA and say I have times open, and I have guys coming,” Edwards said. “One guy came dressed as Santa. The NEO Cheerleaders took every Friday night. One new volunteer has signed up for seven different shifts.”

Edwards said those who volunteer are rewarded as well as those in need who receive help from the Salvation Army.

“Once you have witnessed firsthand the number of people that need assistance, it will make you proud to know how many families will be blessed by volunteering,” Edwards said. “I know I have been blessed to be part of such compassion for those in need.”

Children also love to help volunteer, Edwards said.

“When you tell kids they are helping other kids they love helping,” she said.

Edwards updates the schedule daily and will be posting the updated schedule on the Facebook page to show available time slots, or volunteers can call to determine which times are still open. She texts the volunteers the night before they are scheduled to remind them

Every coin, bill or check collected stays in Ottawa County and the money is well spent.

“No funds are used for salaries, all workers in our local unit are volunteers,” Edwards said. “Last year we broke the record for what we received.”

The Ottawa County Salvation Army provides many services for those who find themselves in need. Services include providing food, clothing, transportation for those stranded, motels for flooding or fire victims, and utility bill funds when certain criteria are met. The volunteer staff keeps meticulous records, making sure donations are given to those who are in need and qualify for services.

Last year the Miami Unit helped local families in need by providing 1,149 individuals with food, 540 with clothing, 332, with utility assistance, 177 children's lunches for the summer program, 89 with a nights lodging, 326 with toiletries, 36 with gasoline, provided two bus tickets, seven prescriptions, 53 with household items, 29 with furniture, five with air conditioners and 18 with backpacks filled with supplies from January through October of 2016.

In 2016 in Ottawa County, 20 families received Thanksgiving food baskets, 18 Christmas food baskets and 91 individuals received gifts.

“These numbers were made possible by last year’s ringers,” Edwards said.

Edwards said there were too many volunteer bell ringers to thank individually, but she listed some who have volunteered in the past and some have signed up to help again this year, NEO Cheer, groups from Fairland, Miami, Afton and Wyandotte Schools, Verizon, and First National and church groups throughout Ottawa County. Four generations of the Cline family of Miami volunteered during last year's season.

“I have a gentleman that takes dialysis of the morning, but he wants to ring every day,” Edwards said. “I had grandparents who took their grandkids to ring and they just loved it.”

Last year the bell ringing turned into a competition between the women and men at First National Bank of Miami.

“It's been proven that challenges can inspire people to do their best,” Edwards said. “We are asking you to call someone and challenge them to a duel to see who can collect the most money in a two hour time slot. We want friends to challenge friends, teachers to challenge teachers, bankers to challenge bankers, clubs to challenge other clubs, and others.”

Edwards said some bell ringers wear costumes, bring entertainment such as playing guitar or singing, pass out candy - anything to attract attention to the kettle without blocking customers entering or leaving the business entry.

This year the need for assistance has increased and the local unit is providing even more help to those in need with a local food pantry closing.

The Salvation Army Miami Service Unit is a United Way recipient agency and is another way to support the organization's efforts as well as volunteering at the local unit. There are currently six regular volunteers who are there to help serve the community from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. every Monday and Thursday at the Salvation Army Miami Unit headquarters located at 217 West Steve Owens Boulevard in Miami . All are volunteers, receiving no pay.

“When I volunteer and I get there in the morning there's long line waiting for utility and other assistance,” she said.

All donations are then budgeted for programs throughout the year and assistance is documented as it is given out ensuring the funds are used equitably, fairly and responsibly.

Edwards is dedicated to the fundraising drive and will be spending 13 hours a day collecting and counting the donations and checking in with volunteers. She has been a volunteer for three years now with the Miami Salvation Army Unit, which she says has opened her own eyes to the great need for assistance in the community.

“I was ashamed that I lived this close and I had no clue,” she said. “I wasn't aware that there are that many homeless people. I was just blown away by the need.”