Archive for Thursday, December 2, 2004

Need has no season’

A day working the kettles chills the blood but warms the heart

December 2, 2004

A frosty reception greeted Albert Brand when he arrived at work Tuesday. Not that anyone was unhappy to see the 49-year-old Kansas City, Kan., man, it's just that his job requires him to be outside.

And Tuesday, that meant standing sentinel in front of the Bonner Springs Wal-Mart in temperatures that dip in and out of the 20s.

"Man, if you want to stand out in this," says Brand while wearing enough heavy layers of clothing to make an Iditarod racer sweat, "you've got to dress accordingly."

This gig isn't exactly similar to Brand's other job, working construction, but then there aren't many professions that resemble his current job title: bell ringer for the Salvation Army.

Working construction means heavy labor that keeps the blood warm; Brand's ringing of the bell doesn't give the same rewards. But just as Brand himself starts to wonder why he spends six days a week braving the elements for the Salvation Army, the pay-off comes ambling by and he's quickly reminded.

As a young mother and her two small children exit Wal-Mart, the family stops just feet away from Brand. The matriarch reaches into her purse and hands two $1 bills to the kids, who in turn, fold the bills and drop them inside the bucket.

"Thank you, now," says Brand. "You're the first ones today. May God bless you. You children have a good Christmas."

It's awful soft talk for the Air Force veteran. He senses as much and quickly lets loose an explanation before an on-looker gets the wrong impression.

"I guess I just like to make a difference," he says rather sheepishly. "A lot of people need help. This is my way of contributing. It's cold, but you get used to it. If I want to warm up I can go inside for a few minutes, grab a cup of coffee. This makes you feel good, though."

It's just after 11:30 a.m., Brand's work day is just minutes old and more rewards, many more, are still to come.

The Salvation Army sends out its squadron of bell ringers beginning Nov. 12. They will stay affixed to each K-Mart, Wal-Mart and other stores in the area until almost Christmas day.

Brand is one of 1,500 bell ringers the Salvation Army will employ this year, which is just enough to work the 200-some metropolitan area locations. While the charitable organization is pleased with its current roster, the group wouldn't mind have a surplus of workers this Christmas.

Sally Zahner, a Salvation Army spokesperson, said another 2,000 volunteers would provide a good number to help solicit money on behalf of those in need.

"We feel like we're behind and we'd like to have a lot more sign up," Zahner said.

Last year the Salvation Army campaign raised approximately $1.1 million for the area needy; this year the organization has upped the ante by setting its sights on raising $1.2 million.

While the army has laid out the orders, it's soldiers like Brand who are carrying them out.

Fast forward a couple of hours later in Brand's day and you can still find him manning his same post: the northern section of the store, in front of the food center. Heated air is just inches behind him, yet Brand is reloading instead of retreating -- he has now added pitch-black sunglasses to his collage of clothing to combat the cool weather, though there is no threat of the sun breaking free of the cloud cover today.

"(The sunglasses) help keep you warm," he explained. "They help against the wind."

And, as it turns out, the snow.

This is Brand's third year working the Salvation Army kettles, and in that time he's been out in snow and ice storms, freezing rains and cold air biting enough to give a polar bear the chills. His past experience has taught him tricks of the trade, and employing the sunglasses is just one of many.

Today's precipitation, though, is making a rough go of things for Brand and other bell ringers; bad weather means fewer people are likely to be out shopping, which in turn reduces donations.

"This is one of the bad days," he said. "People don't want to get out in the snow. Maybe it will pick up later, after people start getting off work."

Despite this, Brand keeps mustering on. He greets new customers with hellos, says goodbyes to exiting ones, and just about every other customer or so receives a 'God bless you' or a 'Merry Christmas.'

"What else can you do," he says with a wide, toothy grin. "I mean, you're already out here, right?"

Getting more people out is a goal the Salvation Army still wants to see fulfilled. It's not too late, Zahner said, and people interested shouldn't be scared off by the cold weather. It's not like rookies get sent to the front lines on their first days, and there are other ways to contribute, she said.

For those who want to volunteer but don't want to be subjected to the whims of the weather, there are other ways to help. The Salvation Army needs volunteers for its "Shut-In Sunday" event Dec. 5.

Volunteers need to have a car and be able to deliver five or six Christmas gifts to homebound, elderly or disabled people in the area.

"For some of these people, it's the only Christmas gift they will get because they are alone," she said.

Those who wish to volunteer need to call the Salvation Army as soon as possible. Volunteers would pick up gifts between 1 and 3 p.m. Dec. 5 at organization headquarters, 3637 Broadway, Kansas City, Mo.

To volunteer for the event, or as a bell ringer, those interested should contact Capt. Doreen Jennings at (816) 968-0335 or (816) 968-0372.

As Brand can attest, it's not bad work. It's now nearing the end of his shift in Bonner Springs and for the last several hours he's done his best to embody Salvation Army credos like "sharing is caring" and "need has no season."

He'll be back out working tomorrow (though probably at a different location) and more than likely, there will be more cold weather. But, he said, manning the kettles is good, honest work and it goes to a worthy cause.

"To a lot of people (the ringing bells) mean its Christmas time," he said. "To the people it helps, they mean a lot more."

Staff writer Caroline Boyer contributed to this story.

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