“Merry Christmas,” the bell ringer for the Salvation Army said to Karen and she put the dollar in the slot of the red kettle. “And God bless you.”
“Thank you. You’re doing a good thing by volunteering and ringing this bell in the cold,” Karen replied.
“Oh, ma’am, I don’t mind doing this. It’s something I believe in and it’s not that cold. I know for Florida it feels cold today but from where I’m from up north this would be considered a warm, sunny day.”
“I know what you mean. I’ve been in Florida for 25 years. When I lived in New Jersey, we were wearing shorts and tee-shirts if the temperature got up in the 50s around this time of year,” Karen said. “It’s amazing how spoiled I’ve gotten.”
“It’s easy to do ma’am. You get used to living one way for a long time and then something changes or you move and it seems like after awhile you just make the adjustment and forget how it used to be.”
While the conversation continued, the woman kept ringing her bell steadily and occasionally someone entering the grocery store would put in some coins or a dollar. Each time someone made a donation, the bell ringer interrupted her conversation with Karen to say, “Merry Christmas, and God bless you.”
“I like doing this, actually,” she said to Karen. “It makes me feel good. It reminds me that people are basically good and try to do the right thing. Funny, I noticed that the people who drive into the parking lot in older cars are the ones that donate the most. The ones driving the fancy new cars seem to be the ones that either just walk by or drop coins in on their way out of the store,” she said, still ringing the bell. “Either way, I thank the good Lord for every single penny someone puts in the kettle.”
“How long is your shift?” Karen asked her.
“Eight hours each day. Then someone comes and picks up the kettle. A new person brings an empty kettle and stays for four more hours.”
Karen needed to go in and do her shopping but she was enjoying this chat and thought that eight hours must be a long time to sit there on a folding chair ringing the bell constantly.
“Would you like me to go in and get you some hot coffee for you?” Karen asked.
“Oh, no, that’s okay. I had some a little while ago. I’m fine for now.”
“Well then, I’ll go do my shopping. It was nice talking with you. Have a merry Christmas and God bless you,” Karen said.
“Thanks. Oh, and thanks for the donation.”
By the time Karen came out of the store with her grocery cart full of plastic bags the bell ringer was gone. A new person had replaced her. Karen put a dollar into the slot of the red kettle and the man wished her a merry Christmas.
The lady that had been there in the folding chair was already at the bus stop. Karen saw her as she was pulling out of the parking lot. She stopped and asked, “Do you need a ride somewhere?”
“Oh, that’s okay. I’ve got a long way to go. I don’t want you to go out of your way,” she said.
“Please. I insist. I’m in no hurry and the weather is cool enough to keep my groceries cold awhile.”
“Are you sure?” the bell ringer asked. I have to go all the way downtown. It’s two transfers from here.
“Come on, then, get in. Really. I don’t mind driving you downtown.”
While Karen drove, they talked about the holidays and how the houses were all decorated for the holidays. They laughed about how funny it looked to see an inflated snowman lit up on someone’s front lawn even though they were in Florida. The homeowner may never even have seen snow.
The bell ringer gave Karen directions and when they arrived at a big building she said, “This is it. You can drop me off right here. The door is just around the side. This is where I’m staying right now.”
Karen slowed to a stop.
“Merry Christmas, again,” the bell ringer said. “And I really appreciate the ride. It would have taken me over an hour to get here, changing buses and all.”
“Merry Christmas to you, too,” Karen said as the woman closed the car door and turned toward the building.
Karen drove to the corner and turned right. That’s when she saw the front of the building. There was a big red crest above the door. The words written in white stood out against the background. “The Salvation Army.”