Salvation Army bell ringer knows some tricks of trade

A science to this service

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

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.  CHRIS THELEN/STAFF
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.

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.”


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.

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seenitB4 11/28/11 - 10:40 am
Last night on 60 minutes I

Last night on 60 minutes I saw how many kids are living in cars/trucks in made my heart break.......they were making the best out of a tough life...some were washing in restrooms in hospitals or libraries....most had a good attitude & wanted to go to school.
I know the Salvation Army does a good job trying to help the needy---I will try to do more to help them this year.

Willow Bailey
Willow Bailey 11/28/11 - 10:46 am
I saw it too, seenit, it

I saw it too, seenit, it should be required viewing for all. There were some real heroes; I was both saddened and inspired by them. I don't think we have any real understanding of what is going on for many people across this country.

It made me think a lot about this upcoming election, and how very important it is, that we choose wisely.

seenitB4 11/28/11 - 10:49 am
We live in the land of

We live in the land of plenty......but somany are poor & are living out of cars....not all are druggies or sorry loafers....some are just down on their luck & have used up all their resources..the kids can't help it..I would like to take every member of congress & make them live out of their vehicle for a month...maybe then they could get our country on the right track again....& get our debt PAID...

seenitB4 11/28/11 - 10:52 am
WB says It made me think a

WB says
It made me think a lot about this upcoming election, and how very important it is, that we choose wisely.

Very important words my friend....I see the program touched you too.

Vito45 11/28/11 - 02:19 pm
It certainly opened my eyes

It certainly opened my eyes wider; but I still have my doubts about the total number of people in real poverty. The government has a threshold for categorizing one as such, but a LOT of those have money for cellphones, flat screens, nails, hair-dos and assorted bling.

Earlier today there was a piece about people doing their grocery shopping late at night, and it is somewhat driven by when the "check" comes in. On the 1st @ 0001 is when a lot of EBT's are re-loaded, so there is such a glut of shoppers at the WalMarts, they staff up for the night shift at their superstores.
The interesting thing was one couple that was featured were checking the account with an IPHONE to see if the allotment was loaded, and they drove up in a late model SUV.

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