Salvation Army bell ringer knows some tricks of trade

A science to this service
Gilbert Simmons greets shoppers at the Kroger on Columbia Road in Martinez. This is his third year, and he says a good personality is key.

Gilbert Simmons has found that a slow, steady ring and a smile work best.


This is his third year as a bell ringer for the Salvation Army, and he has it down to a science.

The first key is appearance. Simmons, who has rung at Kroger, 4115 Columbia Road in Martinez, for three years, chooses to wear a tie.

Second, it’s important to keep a jacket handy for unexpected temperature dips.

But the most important thing is how to handle the bell and address the shoppers. Simmons warns that ringing the bell too fast will make your hand tired before the end of the nine-hour shift.

He tries to greet everyone with a smile and takes the time to speak to children and give them an opportunity to ring the bell.

Most loyal shoppers recognize his face and stop to speak while tossing money in his kettle.

“It’s all about your personality towards people,” he said.

Occasionally, Simmons meets some moody people, but he doesn’t let that spoil his mood.

He said he’s there to do God’s work.

The Salvation Army red kettle got its start in 1897 when Salvation Army Capt. Joseph McFee became distressed over poor San Franciscans going hungry during the holidays.

He pulled the idea of a kettle from his sailor days in Liverpool, England, where passersby would toss coins in a large, iron kettle at Stage Landing to help feed the poor.

The next day he placed a similar pot on a street in San Francisco.

Within six years, the concept had spread across the nation. Today, money raised in red kettles assists more than 4.5 million people.

“It gets you in the spirit for the holidays,” said Simmons, who has one of the highest-earning kettles in the 25-plus locations across the Augusta area.

Across town, Mark Reich, of Evans, was setting up for four hours as a volunteer bell ringer.

He admitted he was “a little nervous” Wednesday afternoon as he stood outside Kroger, 4355 Washington Road in Evans, and juggled his two bells for the first time.

“It’s hard to know what’s the right amount of ringing,” he said.

Reich said it was always something he wanted to do so, when he read an article in The Augusta Chronicle asking for volunteers, he knew now was the time.

“It’s such a part of the whole season,” he said. “It’s a fun way to help out for a good cause.”

Salvation Army of Augusta seeking volunters to staff red kettles


Any person or group can sign up to ring for four-hour shifts, a whole day or an entire session at any of the more than 25 locations in the Augusta area.

Bells are rung from noon to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday.

To volunteer, contact Volunteer Coordinator Katie Atkinson by e-mail at or call (706) 826-7933.