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Salvation Army's Red Kettle drive down to last five days

December 19, 2017 Updated: December 19, 2017 at 5:07 pm
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. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)

Michael Simons was homeless for seven months before becoming a bell ringer for the Salvation Army's annual Red Kettle campaign.

He's been earning $10 an hour, enough for him to get a place to live.

His happiness shines through at his post outside a King Soopers in Colorado Springs, where he shakes a small brass bell, calls out "Merry Christmas" to everyone and says "thank you" to donors.

"If people look stressed out, a simple smile and a 'How are you doing?' can change their expressions," Simons said Tuesday as he neared the end of his shift. "Some people say they're sorry they can't give more, and I remind them that everything adds up."

Simons is among the many bell ringers who are being paid this year.

Volunteers to man the kettles are "down significantly" for the traditional holiday fundraiser, said Capt. David Kauffman, the Salvation Army's El Paso County coordinator.

With five days left in this holiday shopping season and $40,000 to go toward its goal of raising $360,000, the organization is hoping its 50 buckets scattered throughout the city will be brimming with loose change and bills.

Although the money donated during the five weeks leading up to Christmas supplies just 10 percent of the local organization's $4 million annual budget, the dollars fulfill an important role, Kauffman said.

"It's integral to keeping programs open that shelter and feed the homeless," he said.

Salvation Army
Although there were three volunteers at this location on Tejon St., many locations have had a hard time getting volunteers for this year's Red Kettle drive for the Salvation Army. To top it off, last week a kettle was stolen. Karl Wunder, a worker for the Salvation Army, was ringing in front of a local Walmart on Tuesday, December 19, 2017. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette) 

The organization runs the R.J. Montgomery homeless shelter, which accommodates up to 220 people every night and helps clients with life skills, employment and self-sufficiency.

A nine-unit transitional housing program for families experiencing homelessness and an after-school program also benefit from the Red Kettle drive.

Last year's efforts had the same goal and fell short at $340,000, according to Kauffman.

Two thefts this year - an unusual occurrence here but something that has been reported in other cities - presented setbacks. One woman stole an estimated $1,000, Kauffman said, which included the kettle, bell, apron and sign.

"She could be set up anywhere and raising funds right now," Kauffman said.

The other thief took off with about $150 before anyone realized he was pocketing the money instead of placing it in the kettle.

The incidents were reported to Colorado Springs police, who are searching for suspects, Kauffman said.

King Soopers stores in the northern part of town are the top producers in the city, Salvation Army records show. Some locations have been scaled back or eliminated this year, down from 72 kettles last year to 50. Safeway limited days and hours bell ringers could be in front of their grocery stores, for example. Other sites were not making enough money so they were jettisoned, Kauffman said.

With arctic temperatures expected for Colorado later this week, Kauffman pointed out the job is hard work.

"Bell ringers are out there in the elements and have to be nice and sweet and say 'Merry Christmas,' even if they may not feel like it," he said.

Simons said the majority of people he encounters on his shifts are friendly and generous. He said some donate every time they pass his bucket.

"I like to see all the happy faces," he said.

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