Salvation Army’s Christmas Kettle Campaign kicks off; bell ringers needed

Local church, business and community leaders gathered in Blackfoot on Thursday to kick off The Salvation Army's Christmas Kettle Campaign. Those pictured are Ray Matsuura, left, Amy Mow, Paul Loomis, Traci Hebdon, Dan Cravens and Paul Bingham.

Local church, business and community leaders gathered in Blackfoot on Thursday to kick off The Salvation Army’s Christmas Kettle Campaign. Those pictured are Ray Matsuura, left, Amy Mow, Paul Loomis, Traci Hebdon, Dan Cravens and Paul Bingham.

By Kendra Evensen, kevensen@journalnet.com

BLACKFOOT — Local church, business and community leaders helped kick off The Salvation Army’s Christmas Kettle Campaign in the Blackfoot area on Thursday.

They say red kettles will be stationed at Walmart, Kesler’s, Ridley’s, C-A-L Ranch and Walgreens from Nov. 24 through Dec. 23, excepting Sundays, and they’re asking people to consider donating not only money, but also their time, to the effort.

Paul Bingham, a volunteer for The Salvation Army, is encouraging school, government, business, church and community groups as well as families and individuals to volunteer an hour or more of their time to ring the bell and collect donations to help those in need.

People can sign up to help at www.signup.com/go/5Tm9Gy.

“If we can get more people to volunteer, then more money will be raised and all of that money stays right here in this community,” Bingham said.

Traci Hebdon, Bingham County coordinator for the SouthEastern Idaho Community Action Agency, which is the service extension office for The Salvation Army, said 90 percent of the funds raised go to helping local people in need. The other 10 percent is used for advertising and administration costs.

Hebdon says they provide emergency and disaster relief to those in need and can help with food, shelter and transportation to medical appointments and offer other assistance.

The funds collected during the Christmas Kettle Campaign help substantially in those efforts, she said.

“These funds make the difference in helping people or turning people away,” she said.

While community members are generous and want to help those in need, Bingham said they need volunteers to be willing to stand out with the kettles and ring the bells so that people will have a place to make donations.

He started volunteering as a bell ringer about five years ago. As a UPS worker, he said Christmas was always a busy time for him, but he still wanted to find a way to serve the community during the holidays.

One night he and his wife watched a Hallmark movie about a man who was required to serve as a bell ringer as part of a community service sentence.

“In the beginning as he did that, he tried everything he could to get out of it because it wasn’t something he wanted to do. But as he began to do it and he began to see all the people that were helped as a result, it became the most meaningful part of Christmas to him,” Bingham said.

The movie inspired Bingham to volunteer, and he, too, had a wonderful experience. But he soon realized that there weren’t enough people to help ring the bells. He started trying to recruit more volunteers, and Blackfoot Mayor Paul Loomis suggested that they put the information on a website where people could easily sign up.

Over the years, they’ve been able to get more volunteers and put red kettles in even more locations, and it’s made a difference. The first year that Bingham got involved, they raised $3,000. Last year, they brought in approximately $16,500 (closer to $23,000 if you include the Shelley area) to help people in need.

Bingham says volunteering as a bell ringer has become a tradition for many in recent years. He hopes others will want to get involved as part of their holiday celebrations this year.

“(When people) think of Christmas, we want them to think of helping other people, of apple pie and turkey and being home with their family, and, of course, of Christ — and being able to ring a bell for The Salvation Army,” he said.