The high-pitched ding of Gilbert Simmons’ small brass bell won’t stop until the Lord tells him to walk away from the red kettle where he is collecting change round the clock for the Salvation Army of Augusta.
“I’m going to be out here as long as God plans for me to be out here,” Simmons said.
Simmons and two other bell ringers picked up their bells at noon Wednesday. They are participating in the inaugural Battle of the Bell contest to see who can shake a brass bell for the longest time.
The competition continues until one bell ringer remains, or Saturday, whichever comes first.
The bell battle is an effort to help the Salvation Army raise the $83,600 remaining of the $250,000 goal for its annual Red Kettle fundraiser, which ends Christmas Eve.
Vitamins, water, three pairs of gloves and an extra coat were all that Simmons packed for his red kettle post at the Walmart in North Augusta, where he plans to stay until the competition ends at noon Saturday. He’s fasting from most food as an added gesture for the people who need help from the Salvation Army.
“Only thing I need is the help from God,” he said. “I’m not tired. I’m not hurting.”
Contestants must remain standing and continue ringing their bells even while eating or drinking. A 15-minute break is given every few hours.
Charlie Gaugh has had 20 years of practice as a Salvation Army ringer to prepare for this week’s marathon. He holds the bell between his thumb and index finger and shakes it with a small wrist flip and no arm movement.
Gaugh, a father of 11 and a night-shift worker, ignores the sound of the bell and focuses on the generous people who drop change or dollar bills into the kettle. He plans to call his wife if he needs anything besides the extra jacket he took to his kettle post at Kroger, 2801 Washington Road.
“Keep rolling – the good Lord’ll let you know when you’re tired,” he said after the first three hours ringing the bell.
When he finishes ringing Saturday, Gaugh plans to take a shower, nap for 30 minutes and start cooking Christmas dinner.