BAXTER — Hopping around. Dancing. Bellowing good cheer. Shoppers were treated to the spectacle of flamboyant bell ringers frolicking about the entrance of Fleet Farm the afternoon of Thursday, Dec. 19.
Bell ringers Jimmy Frazer and Ricky Vukelich, both of Brainerd, brought their own individual flair to the roles — Frazer, decked out and masked as the Grinch, while Vukelich cheerily hopped and danced about like he was fending off frostbite. Both men rang their bells and wished passersby a hearty Merry Christmas in billowing gusts of steam.
“I just love giving back and making people smile, it’s just a joy,” said Vukelich, a veteran of six or seven Red Kettle campaigns. He gestured excitedly at his bell ringing partner. “There’s so much joy even the Grinch can’t even be upset with that smile on his face.”
“It’s just awesome to meet new people,” added Frazer in a somewhat muffled voice through the mask. Frazer is out on his second bell ringing circuit.
So, is it hard to stay warm standing about in the 20 degree winter afternoon?
“Not at all,” Vukelich answered jubilantly. “You just gotta leap around for joy and you’ll stay nice and warmed up.”
It’s a different, if not completely unfamiliar, sight for lakes area residents. Costumes aside, the iconic red kettles, accompanied by bell ringers, are as much a fixture of the season as bedazzled pine trees, strings of glowing lights and wrapped packages.
The Salvation Army’s Red Kettle campaign is in full swing this year, gunning for a $155,000 goal in donations and armed with thousands of hours freely given by local volunteers at 13 locations in Brainerd, Baxter, Nisswa and Pequot Lakes. About 15-20 lakes area residents gathered at noon Thursday at Fleet Farm to commemorate the Day of Caring — a ceremonial ringing of the bell and a commitment by the department retailer to match up to $15,000 in donations. Members of The Salvation Army board, local business moguls, as well as State Rep. Josh Heintzeman and Baxter Mayor Darrel Olson attended.
As of mid-afternoon, organizers noted donations are coming in but it won’t be known if givers matched Fleet Farm until the event’s end at 8 p.m. Prior years have accrued as much as $23,000, they noted, so a $15,000 benchmark is very doable.
Brian Lehman, a co-chairman of the Red Kettle campaign, said the calendar gave volunteers three days less than usual to accomplish their yuletide goals. During a phone interview Thursday, Lehman said donations topped $90,000 and volunteers had put in roughly 1,200 hours at the kettles — a robust clip, he noted, well ahead of 2018’s campaign this time last year. A Red Kettle campaign typically runs from shortly after Thanksgiving Day to Christmas Eve.
“We’re making pretty good progress,” Lehman said. “In terms of money, we’re just about on the same track, so if we keep this rate — the Brainerd lakes area is such a giving community, if we’re a bit short before the deadline, people will usually monitor how we’re doing and people will step up and help us meet our goal.”
With six days of bell ringing left until the campaign ends on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, Lehman said the campaign needs volunteers to fill roughly 420 scheduled hours, with the typical commitment at two hours a shift.
People can register for times 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. during the full days of the campaign. Every day has about 130 potential hours. Individuals can sign up to ring bells by going to RegisterToRing.com or call the Brainerd Salvation Army Office to sign up at 218-829-1120.
Money raised from The Salvation Army Red Kettle campaign goes toward a number of services the agency provides, including:
Food and groceries for the food shelf for individuals during the holidays and throughout the year;
providing showers to the homeless;
backpacks and supplies for school kids;
past due medical bill assistance;
hotel vouchers for individuals in crisis; and
meals, food, water, emotional and spiritual support during disasters or other emergency events.
“There’s such a need in our community and The Salvation Army helps so many families throughout the year,” Lehman said. “So, if someone puts a little of their time or money in, they’re helping families out on a daily basis.”
“Just step out of your comfort zone,” Vukelich said. “You can’t go wrong. For everything you give back to the community, the joy you receive — it’s not only for yourself, it’s for everybody else and that’s where the real joy comes from.”
How to donate
To donate to the 129th Red Kettle Campaign:
Drop money into any of the thousands of red kettles at partner storefront locations.
Ask Amazon Alexa to donate by saying, “Alexa, donate to The Salvation Army,” then specifying the amount.
Sign up to give a monthly sustaining donation to help The Salvation Army year-round.
Give any amount by texting “KETTLES” to 91999.
Use #FightforGood to document giving or volunteering on the campaign on social media.