For more than 20 years, Ernie Potter has been ringing bells to get people to drop coins into red kettles to help those in need in central Oklahoma.
Potter, 65, has seen some surprises in the kettles. A woman dropped a ring in a kettle with a note attached once that said, “This is not a mistake. Having this ring was a mistake.”
Once, a 1-ounce gold coin was dropped in a red kettle. There have been $100 bills, too. People drop their car keys in the kettles quite frequently, he said.
But none of the items found in the kettles reminds Potter why he rings the bells more than a woman who yelled at him not to go anywhere as she came out of a store.
The woman, he recalled, said she had gone through hard times 20 years earlier and her family would not have had a Christmas if it had not been for The Salvation Army's assistance.
“Those are the people who make it so satisfying,” Potter said. “People who have worked hard all their lives and are suddenly in need we assist. That is what makes you know how important this is.”
Potter recalled the story Thursday as he worked to round up more volunteers for this year's Salvation Army Red Kettle campaign in central Oklahoma. The national campaign is from Nov. 9 to Dec. 24.
Jeanean Castle, Salvation Army director of development for Oklahoma, Canadian and Cleveland counties, said the telephone rang 5,000 times in one hour on a recent day. The calls were from people needing utility or Christmas assistance.
The 2011 Red Kettle campaign raised $650,000, Castle said. Salvation Army officials hope to top that this year. There is more of a need out there than ever before with economic conditions, she said.
The money raised by bell ringers outside of retail stores supports all Salvation Army programs and services, Castle said. Christmas needs are seasonal, and only a portion of the work that is done year round, she said.
People who can't volunteer time as bell ringers can raise funds online, she said. The website is www.onlineredkettle.org.
For more information about volunteering in central Oklahoma, call 246-1101.