MIAMI – The Salvation Army's Miami Bell Ringers make their appearance every year at this time. The sound of the little ringing bells, greetings from the volunteer ringers, and sight of the red kettles at storefronts is a sure sign Christmas will soon be here.
What isn't so obvious is the importance of filling those red kettles. The Salvation Army's Miami Unit focuses on assistance for families and individuals in need year round.
Every cent collected during the kettle drive stays in Ottawa County to help the less fortunate in the community. No funds collected are used for salaries, and all workers in the Ottawa County unit are volunteers giving their own time, and they need the community's support.
“This year, we have not brought in half of what we have got the last three years,” Miami Unit Salvation Army’s Anna Edwards said. “We need more money. If they donate here, it gets spent here. We will be ringing until the last minute Christmas Eve.”
The bell ringing will continue from now up until Christmas Eve, and every donation large or small is needed, appreciated and well appropriated. Ringers have been stationed in front of the Miami Walmart and Marvin’s grocery store in Miami.
Miami’s volunteer bell ringers of all ages have helped contribute to the campaign.
Three-year-old Landen Anderson drew large donations with charm and by wearing a tuxedo and tie.
“He would take them a candy cane and say ‘Merry Christmas’ and women loved it and would just pull out wads of money to give,” Edwards said with a laugh.
The most money raised in a two-hour ringing session this year was brought in by Tony Wagoner.
One ringer, ironically named George Bell, is truly devoted to the campaign and has rung the bell almost daily for the last three years.
“On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays he takes dialysis for his kidneys. He would ring eight hours a day if I would let him, but I won’t,” Edwards said. “He has rung every single day for three years, sometimes six hours a day. Yesterday he found out that he got on the transplant list for a kidney and he is just so thrilled.”
Edwards said Bell and the other ringers have been invaluable, especially this year.
“We haven’t had ringers either this year. Most of the time Marvin’s has not been manned. I don’t know why it’s that way this year,” Edwards said.
The Miami Unit has helped in many ways so far this year, and from January to October of 2017 the unit provided utility assistance to 170 homes, clothing to 437 individuals, and food to 1,800 individuals.
Eight community members were given assistance for prescription medication, one with eyeglasses, 10 with fuel, four with fans, 10 nights of hotel stays, and 34 individuals with hygiene needs.
The local unit also helped provide 14 households with furniture, 43 more with household items, two households with air conditioners, gave out three sets of washers and dryers, and one water heater.
Providing food to the hungry was the main priority this past year, and the unit provided 38 food-filled backpacks and 5,100 brown bag lunches in the Summer Sack Lunch Program.
Last year the Miami Salvation Army Unit provided 25 Thanksgiving food baskets, 25 Christmas baskets and provided 73 children with Christmas gifts.
The Salvation Army is an international movement, and an evangelical part of the Christian church, its message is based on the Bible and motivated by the love of God, according to the local unit. The Salvation Army's mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.
The Miami Unit provides assistance to any family or individual showing proof of residence in Ottawa County eligible for help with proper credentials.
The Miami Salvation Army encourages anyone needing help to reach out to the organization, and they will try to find ways to assist.
The annual bell ringing campaign provides the Salvation Army's main source of funds keeping these important services available. The United Way and private donations complete the organization's funding.
To donate, volunteer, or for more information contact the Salvation Army Miami Unit at 217 West Steve Owns Drive in Miami or call 918-541-5129.
Melinda Stotts is the associate editor of the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at email@example.com or followed on Twitter @MelindaStotts1.