By KELLY DE LA ROCHA
CAPITAL REGION — It wasn’t frigid Friday afternoon when Christopher Brown and his fiancée, Sandya Sainvil, started their bell-ringing shift outside the Glenville Wal-Mart, but once the sun went down, the cold started to seep through their boots and gloves.
“Those were the trying hours,” recalled Sainvil, who was out there again Monday afternoon, along with Brown, raising funds for The Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign.
The two Union College seniors are spending their winter break working full-time as bell ringers, during a season when The Salvation Army’s services are in high demand.
Maj. Mike Himes, corps officer for the Salvation Army of Schenectady County, said recent snow and cold temperatures have driven more people than usual to seek shelter and food through the organization.
At the same time, fewer people have stepped up to volunteer for the Red Kettle Campaign.
Six kettle sites, on average, are going unstaffed daily in the Capital Region, said Maj. Roger Duperree, The Salvation Army’s Capital Region executive director.
“This is an important time of the year for us and the truth is that people’s lives depend on our success or lack thereof,” he said. “People in this region have been very, very supportive, very good to us in days gone by, and we just trust that they’ll continue to provide the kind of support that we need.”
This year’s Capital Region Red Kettle Campaign fundraising goal is $706,000, $130,000 of which is expected to be raised in Schenectady County. As of Saturday, Schenectady County bell ringers had brought in $31,000.
Funds raised from the campaign stay local, to help provide necessities to those in need.
In Schenectady County, The Salvation Army provides holiday food, gifts and warm outerwear for about 500 families. Musical entertainment and gifts are also provided during the holidays to people in nursing homes. Funds from the campaign support the Schenectady Salvation Army’s year-round food pantry as well.
Along with the volunteers, the Salvation Army hires some bell ringers at minimum wage during the Red Kettle Campaign.
Volunteers can commit to as little as two hours, but it’s preferred that they sign up as individuals or groups for four- to eight-hour shifts.
“But every bit of time people can volunteer helps us out,” Duperree noted.
The number of bell ringers staffing Schenectady County’s 14 red kettle sites is about the same as last year, but more are always needed, Himes said.
Sainvil and Brown are paid bell ringers.
Sainvil, who lives in Schenectady, said she’s doing the job to help pay for college and also to help the community.
“They not only provide clothing and such, but they care about the people they are helping. There’s a lot of heart in the Salvation Army,” she said.
Donors have not only added cash to her kettle but have shown kindness.
“A lot of people have offered to buy a cup of cocoa or a cup of coffee and it’s appreciated to know that they don’t only care about helping out the community but also the person who’s helping in the process of that,” she said.
Brown, whose permanent residence is in Pomona, California, said some donors have expressed thanks for necessities they’ve received in the past from The Salvation Army, including deodorant and shaving kits.
The cheery sound of a bell ringing could be heard above the holiday music at Rotterdam Square mall Monday afternoon.
Ashley Clother, a direct support professional for ARC, was in the hall outside Macy’s with an 81-year-old client, doing a bell-ringing shift.
There weren’t many people in the mall, but a good number of those who were shopping there had stopped to put cash in the kettle, she said.
Clother said she has been a bell ringer a couple of times in the past and enjoys it.
“You’re doing it for people who may not have what you have this year, those that are less fortunate,” she explained.
Sainvil and Brown will work as bell ringers five days a week, eight hours a day, until the Red Kettle Campaign comes to a close on Christmas Eve.
“Hopefully our spirits stay high and the weather stays as beautiful as this,” Sainvil said Monday afternoon.
She and Brown have purchased hand- and foot-warmers just in case it doesn’t.
How to help
To volunteer as a bell ringer for the 2014 Salvation Army Red Kettle Campaign, call your local Salvation Army office.
This story originally appeared in The Daily Gazette.