This winter, I thought volunteering would be a good way to get in the holiday spirit during a season traditionally associated more with consumerism, capitalism and conflict at the store.
The Salvation Army's Red Kettle Campaign is its largest fundraiser, so telling people I had again signed up for a two-hour shift as a bell ringer for the nonprofit had a nice "ring" to it.
"I have been blown away at how many people have come out and volunteered this Christmas season," Brainerd Lakes Salvation Army leader Grant Holloway said in a statement. "Our community has donated over 1,800 volunteer hours to help our campaign so far."
As of Tuesday, the Brainerd Lakes Salvation Army raised $62,949.60 in holiday-related donations-$120,000 short of its overall Christmas fundraising goal of $190,000.
"Now we're asking our community to help us reach our goal financially. Our goal helps us meet the needs in our own community, every single day," Holloway said.
My two-hour shift Thursday afternoon began inside the Westgate Mall near the Herberger's end. Another red kettle was stationed at the main entrance of the local mall with other volunteers.
It soon became apparent that-like in real estate-location is everything. The kettle at the main entrance-that kettle was closest to a photo op with the mall Santa-was doing much better.
(Among the instructions I received as a bell ringer were smile, make eye contact and say, "Thank you," or "Merry Christmas" while wearing the apron with the Salvation Army logo.)
"Sharing is caring" and "Need knows no season," according to the Salvation Army sign located above the locked kettle, but some paid no heed to it or to the noise I was making with the bell.
The Brainerd Lakes Salvation Army uses Christmastime donations to fund year-round programs
that provide food, clothing, housing assistance and other critical services for residents in need.
Some of the shoppers, whether intentionally or as a result of their Christmas shopping, avoided making eye contact or even went so far as to walk on the other side rather than pass me.
I beamed my best smile and rang the bell as loudly as I could in my attempt to have someone-anyone-drop something in the bucket. No matter how big or small, it would be appreciated.
I wasn't particularly choosey as to the reason for a donation. I'd accept a donation to stop ringing the bell and wondered if tackling a person for their change is prohibited or frowned upon.
The first person to donate slipped in a couple of bills in the plastic kettle, and I was hoping somehow like a Christmas miracle that the pair of bills would multiply like proverbial rabbits.
Last winter, I rang the bell at a kettle located outside of a Macy's. It was cold but my spirit was warmed by the generosity of people who donated-one who even treated me to hot chocolate.
Inside Westgate Mall, attempting to appeal to shoppers loaded with purchases in the climate-controlled environment, I suspect that many did not take pity on me as the year before.
(There are 10 other kettle locations in the Brainerd lakes area, including Cub Foods, SuperOne, Walgreens, Walmart, Big Lots, Schaefer's Foods, SuperValu and Mills Fleet Farm.)
Better to give than receive is what I believe, and fortunately some of the people I encountered as a bell ringer felt that way as well, or seemed to, as the number of donations gradually increased.
During one particular period, three people donated in quick succession and a few commented that giving would be easier if red kettles accepted credit cards or Apple Pay.
People can donate via credit card at SalvationArmyNorth.org, where one can also sign up online to become a bell ringer. Or donations can be made by calling 800-SAL-ARMY (800-725-2769). The gift will be allocated to the Salvation Army location nearest to the person's billing ZIP code.
In addition, the Salvation Army is pleased to announce its sixth annual Day of Caring Thursday. Mills Fleet Farm will match all donations in their red kettle up to $20,000.
However, watching a little girl donate money her father gave her, to drop in my red kettle-and the broad smiles that simple act brought to both our faces-was simply priceless.