MIDDLEBURG – The Christmas season is accentuated yearly with a euphony of ringing bells along storefronts. Beginning in 1891, the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign has been synonymous with …
MIDDLEBURG – The Christmas season is accentuated yearly with a euphony of ringing bells along storefronts. Beginning in 1891, the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign has been synonymous with goodwill during Christmas.
“The funds we raise have a direct, positive impact on our community,” said Mike and Julie Chamberlain, co-directors for the Salvation Army of Clay County.
The funds from the Red Kettle Campaign support the Salvation Army’s toy and blanket drives, food pantry distributions, youth programs, utility bill assistance and the Angel Tree program.
“I was once an Angel Tree kid,” said Julie, referring to the program dedicated to making children’s wish lists for Christmas gifts come true.
“I know what it means for families. I know how much it means personally for kids who aren’t expecting anything to receive a gift. My dad was supposed to return home for Christmas, but his orders changed. I was overjoyed to receive a jumbo-sized coloring book and a 64-pack of crayons that Christmas.”
The Chamberlains spent their 19th wedding anniversary ringing the bell at Publix on Fleming Island, where they brought instruments and their ringing bells. Julie plays the baritone and ukelele. Mike plays the cornet, which is like a small trumpet. They enjoy performing “Joy to the World,” “White Christmas” and “As with Gladness Men of Old.”
“It’s in a good key for me,” said Mike.
“For those saying, ‘Oh it’s not for me…’ Just try it. Many of our volunteers felt the same way, and they now enjoy it every year. I’ve heard so many great, life-changing stories from our volunteers. Bring your instruments, bring your pets, come in groups and come with Christmas cheer,” said Julie.
The Salvation Army depends on the fundraiser for the holiday season and for charity and community programs throughout the year. The charity is thankful for its donors: Fields Automotive, Eagle Landing, Penney Farms Retirement Community and Russell Baptist Church, among many others.
Mike said that the charity is especially thankful for all the bell ringers, who have already donated 3,200 hours. The goal is 10,000 hours for the season.
Alex Lemen is a testament to the positive impact just one bell ringer can have on the community. His mother, Suzi Lemen, drops him off at a Sam’s Club in Argyle Forest. Alex will be out there nearly every day from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. As someone normally nonverbal on the autism spectrum, Alex finds tremendous joy in smiling and greeting the passing shoppers. He rings his bell, he smiles, he dances and he sings. He’s been doing so every Christmas season for the past 10 years.
“He is the No. 1 bell ringer in the county,” said Suzi. “He’s reliable and hardworking. No matter the weather, he’ll be out there eight to nine hours a day.”
Alex looks forward to the Red Kettle Campaign every year. He enjoys the friendly faces at Sam’s Club.
When asked how he planned to celebrate his 10th anniversary as a bell ringer, “Christmas” was his response. When asked what he enjoys most about volunteering, “10 to 8” was his response – his entire shift from morning to night. When asked if he planned to volunteer again next year, “Yes” was his resounding response.
“He’s happy when the bucket is heavy. Sometimes, there will even be $10 or $20 bills. More important is where that money is going. (The Salvation Army) is so valuable to the community,” said Suzi.
The Chamberlains said that pocket change, loose bills and electronic payments totaled about $100,000 throughout the county last year. To sponsor more outreach programs, the goal this season is $150,000.
“I’ll grab it, and it’s heavy,” Mike said, referring to Alex’s collection kettle. “The store managers will ask me, ‘Is Alex coming back?’ Absolutely. You can bet on it.”