What’s Going On: How an Army can save your Christmas spirit

What's Going On

Christmas 2017 never had a chance.

Sex scandals.

Mass shootings.

North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and his nuclear arsenal.

Political turmoil.

And shoot, there is barely even any snow.

It’s like the Grinch and The Scrooge teamed up to design the worst possible scenarios to squash our Christmas spirit; to destroy our faith in humanity; to wipe out any desire for goodwill to our fellow man.

It’s gotten so bad, it might take an army to save Christmas.


My son and I were walking out of a grocery store last week because I’m pretty sure there’s a law somewhere that requires me to go a grocery store every single day.

So, the fact I was in a grocery store is not uncommon. What did strike me as odd though was the unmanned kettle.

The Salvation Army’s red metal stand and accompanying kettle is as synonymous with Christmas as nativity scenes, blinking lights and Rudolph.

But even more recognizable than the kettle and its stand is the bell ringers that go with it. Except this time. There was no bell ringer. Heck, there wasn’t even a bell.

There were however green tags attached to a key ring with contact information for anyone interested in volunteering to ring the bell.

Let me state this unequivocally: I’m not a great parent. I’m far too selfish to qualify for that label. I try to be a great parent, just I like I try to write a great column every week. But with both, I’ll settle for good, or at least above average.

In that spirit of slightly-better-than-mediocre, I recognized an opportunity to possibly teach my children a life lesson. I’m not exactly sure what that lesson would be, but I assumed a little forced service work would do them some good.

I do believe there are real individual benefits for the volunteer, and as I learned a long time ago, children may not always listen to what you say, but they are always watching what you do.

Keeping in mind it’s always better to lead by example, I grabbed one of the green tags and told my son we would be signing up to ring the bell.

Christmas is a time of giving, I told him. And we can certainly give our time to raise money for those in need.

What I didn’t know is how much ringing the bell would benefit me.


Despite my best efforts, I’m a natural grump. It’s genetic as I come from a long line of grumps. My dad’s a grump. His dad was a grump, and while I never met him, I’d bet his dad was a grump too.

And as someone who was raised in Missouri with the motto “The Show-Me State” printed on every license plate, doubt and cynicism are my close friends.

So, while I’m predisposed to assume the worst, current world events have done nothing to counter that inclination.

But that changed Tuesday night as my son and I rang the bell outside Hy-Vee; an exercise I repeated with one of my daughters 48 hours later.

It was an eye-opening experience to see how many people actually stopped and put money in the kettle. Old ones, young ones, rich-looking ones, and not-so-rich-looking ones, it didn’t matter. I didn’t keep track, but I’m confident more people stopped than didn’t.

The combination of that surprising generosity and the well-received Merry Christmas greetings would soften the most grizzled heart, and mine was no exception.

Beyond the generosity of local residents, a few other things I learned:

The presence of a kid makes it much harder for folks to just walk by. Don’t know why, but the little squirts are effective sales tools.

The presence of anyone at the kettle makes a huge difference. Volunteer coordinators have told me an unmanned kettle generates about $5-$15 an hour in donations. A manned one typically brings in $100-$150 an hour.

While it’s tough to gauge who will and won’t donate, single women are much more likely to stop than single men. And the older generation is more likely to stop as well than the younger one, although I can’t help but wonder if the presence of a child doesn’t have something to do with that.

Bell-ringing is a great way to develop communication skills in your children. Several people stopped to talk to them and along the way, I was able to coach them up and teach them simple nuances like the importance of eye contact, smiling and posture in relation to interacting with the public.

Here’s my Christmas promise to you: You won’t regret signing up to ring the bell. I guarantee you will be surprised at how enriching of an experience it is.

There are plenty of two-hour slots available and you can sign up for one by calling Brown County Volunteer Coordinator Helen Vogel at 507-354-8768.

The money you raise will stay local and you will feel better about the world, and yourself, and your Christmas spirit will be revived because of it.


Gregory Orear is the publisher of The Journal. His award-winning weekly column, “What’s Going On,” has been published in four newspapers in three states for more than 20 years. He can be contacted at gorear@nujournal.com.