By Riley Manning
TUPELO – Employees around the community are getting out of the office for some fresh air, spreading holiday cheer by manning the Salvation Army’s signature bells and red kettles.
“We go all-out,” said Melissa Kelly, Tupelo Flea Market manager and event coordinator. “You know, it’s funny. The people who donate most are the people who look like they’re not as comfortable themselves. It’s a blessing and a good time.”
V.M. Cleveland, owner and chairman of the Tupelo Furniture Market, said he doesn’t force his employees to participate, but allows them to sign up for shifts on their own. As he rang the bell at the Walmart on West Main Street on Wednesday afternoon, he said the two-hour shifts fill up quickly.
“We do it during the day, and I pay them for the hours,” he said. “They have fun when they get out here, and you wouldn’t believe the people you see that you haven’t seen in a while. Sure, we’re essentially losing a little money, but the Salvation Army is such a good cause.”
Dawn Magers, vice president of operations at Franklin Collection Service, said her company is doing likewise. In addition to the red kettle campaign, she said they also participated in the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree, which wrapped up on Saturday.
“It’s a really refreshing thing to do,” Magers said. “It opens your eyes and softens your heart.”
Marie Parker, secretary at the Salvation Army, said only about one-third of bell ringers at the 20 kettle locations around Lee, Prentiss, and Union counties are volunteers. This year, Parker said the Army received an even lower number of unpaid bell ringers, and donations are slightly behind last year’s earnings.
“We’ve also had a shorter donation season,” Parker said. “We’ve tried to make up for that by extending our hours from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., instead of the usual 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.”
Participation by businesses has been on par with previous years. Parker said about 10 businesses and civic organizations had participated, as well as a healthy number of churches.
Lee Caldwell, owner of the Cotton Bolt and a member of the Salvation Army advisory board, has found his employees enjoy ringing the bell, and said volunteers typically bring in more donations.
“The Salvation Army has to pay bell ringers to ring when they don’t have a volunteer, so we’re saving them money,” he said. “A volunteer wants to be there, has a smile on their face and is usually more enthusiastic and outgoing. Especially considering the ringers they hire are out ringing all day, instead of an hour or two-hour shift.”
Magers and Caldwell both said they have made the service a family affair, and their grandchildren are eager to help out.
“My granddaughter is dying to do it,” Caldwell said. “She loves getting out there and talking to people.”
Caldwell has also organized members of his civic club, Kiwanis, to participate. They’ll be out ringing bells on Saturday.