Heading out to set up her tripod and Salvation Army red kettle Monday outside Hobby Lobby in Lake Jackson, Romana Lopez carried on a personal tradition she started 15 years ago. Getting to help people even on a rainy, dreary day like Monday is a sacrifice she’s willing to make to help the organization, Lopez said.
She is not the only dedicated bell-ringer who makes helping the Salvation Army an annual item on her holiday to-do list.
Paula Garcia and her four children have rung bells for about nine years, since her oldest child was in fourth grade. He’s 20 years old now, she said.
“We really enjoy it. We take a little speaker with music, we have Christmas music. And when the kids were little, they would sing and it’s nice to be able to do something as a family for our community,” Garcia said. “It’s a way to teach the kids to do something for others. And when we would ring the bell some people would sing with us or smile. It’s always a very pleasant experience.”
The Salvation Army has long been a safe haven for those going through troubled times, but the nonprofit needs continued support to help sustain its cause, both from volunteers and donors.
The Red Kettle program is the organization’s major fundraising campaign each year, and it is in need of volunteers to ring bells outside local storefronts to encourage giving during the holiday season.
“We use kettle funds to run our entire operations throughout the year,” said Capt. Justin Vincent, commanding officer of the Salvation Army of Brazoria County. “And what that looks like is it funds our social services office where we provide rent and utility assistance. We also help with prescription medications and things like that. A lot of what we do there in that office is to prevent homelessness and to keep people on their feet as much as we can.”
They also have a food pantry program that provides food boxes for people that need nutrition and don’t have easy access to food during the Christmas season, Vincent said.
Although the Salvation Army receives some support through grants, the operation is predominantly run by money received in the kettles. That includes its services for the homeless.
The Freeport shelter has been closed for a little more than a year as the facility undergoes major renovations and upgrades, but the Salvation Army of Brazoria County is still committed to helping the homeless in the community, Vincent said. Many of its homeless clients are families.
“What we do with our shelter being closed is we still work to refer the homeless population in Brazoria County to other resources partners that we have,” he said.
They work with the Homeless Coalition and organizations in nearby Harris and Galveston counties to find shelter for those in need and will drive them there if they can’t get there themselves, Vincent said.
The staff works hard and nonstop even during the holiday season to offer rental assistance, food drives and make sure other areas of the organization run smoothly. That’s why there is a great need for volunteers to ring the bells.
“We only have a limited amount of staff during the year who take care of things. And so those programs don’t stop, we need extra help to ring those bells,” Vincent said. “All the work we’re doing in our community to help us raise funds for the work that we do — because helping people is not cheap and we’re a nonprofit organization, right — so we need bell ringers every year.”
Traditionally, the fundraising goal each year is about $250,000, and the Freeport location has been able to meet that target the last three years, he said.
The Salvation Army wants volunteers from the community who are passionate about the work the organization does and can donate their time to ringing the bell, Vincent said.
As a mother, Garcia says it’s her responsibility to teach her kids to think of others, not just tell them but put it into action, she said.
“This is a way that we can actually put our words into action and knowing the bigger picture, that this money is going to help those that truly need it…We’re just standing there for two hours ringing a bell. We’re really not really doing very much but if it can help others, it’s the least we can do.”
Rosio Robledo and her two children have been bell-ringers for about seven years, she said.
“It really helps to kind of keep everyone in the spirit. We just love to help out. It was just a fun thing for us to do as a family,” Robledo said.
Susan Buell, a retired teacher from A.P Beutel Elementary, has coordinated volunteer bell ringers at Hobby Lobby since 2010.
Last year, Buell organized at least 75 students and their families from Lake Jackson schools to ring bells at Hobby Lobby.
“Ringing bells at Christmas time gives children an opportunity to help others in their community,” Buell said. “The experience also gives families, during the Christmas rush, time to pause, time to be together “doing the most good.”
Those interested in ringing the kettle bells don’t need an invitation or to belong to a group. The register2ring.com website features a locator where people can find the Salvation Army of Freeport Corps and sign up for available shifts. Volunteers can take a whole day from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. or it can be broken up into two-hour shifts.
“The Salvation Army of Brazoria County could not operate we could not do any of the good that we do without the support of our community,” Vincent said. “And we have gotten that support every year. And so we are grateful to all the people who volunteer their time and the people that donate. We are grateful to them and we could not do all the good that we are doing without their help during the Christmas season.
“It would be an impossible task to do without them. And so we are completely grateful. And every year we are astonished by the outpouring of support from our community.”