Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ring My Bell

  Yesterday, we had our second annual chess exhibition at the local mall to raise funds for the Salvation Army. In the exhibition, my son Matt plays simultaneously against anyone who pays a small donation to the Salvation Army’s red kettle. Matt is not only the best player in town, he is arguably the best player in the state, so we get some good publicity for the event. This year we had one player who had never come to our chess club come to play in the exhibition, which is one more than last year. I don’t understand why we don’t get more casual players, since there are a lot of engineers that work at Fisher Controls who must have played chess in school. When I try to talk some of these people into playing, they say how they wouldn’t have a chance of winning so they won’t even try. They’re probably right that they wouldn’t have a chance of winning, since Matt ended up beating all of us pretty badly, but I can’t help but thinking that some of these guys would have fun just competing and start playing regularly at the club if they gave it a shot. Aside from the one new fellow, 4 or 5 other guys told me they were looking for a place to play chess, so I gave them one of the flyers I had prepared and hopefully I’ll see them soon.

  The exhibition started at 2:30 and was over by 4:30, but I had promised to be the bell ringer until the mall closed at 8, so I stood outside the J.C. Penney entrance ringing the Salvation Army bell to entice shoppers to contribute to the red kettle. I didn’t mind ringing the bell to help out. Aside from hosting our chess club for free, the Salvation Army helps an incredible amount of people, not just the people who worship there.

  Since I knew I’d be ringing the bell for quite some time, I did not put any money in the other red kettles this season, saving it instead for my collection day. The Salvation Army keeps statistics on how much each shift brings in. A number of people have part time jobs bell ringing and if they don’t collect enough to at least pay their wages they get laid off. So by bell ringing, I was also helping the Salvation Army save on a bell ringer’s salary.

  From what I’ve seen, the bell ringing station outside the J.C. Penney at the Marshalltown mall is a plum assignment. You’re deep inside the mall instead of being outside in an Iowa winter or right inside an entrance, being subjected blasts of cold every time a shopper comes in. Also, I think the people shopping at the J.C. Penney have more money than people shopping at a grocery store or Wal-Mart, even though there are many more people at the Wal-Mart.

  It’s interesting to watch the different people approach the store entrance and the kettle at the moment of eye contact. A lot of people would catch a glimpse of me ringing the bell and instinctively reach for their cell phone and intently check their messages until they were safely past me. Others would quicken their pace and briskly walk past as if they had just remembered an urgent appointment. Others would give me a nod and a smile, whether they kept on walking or made a donation.

  A lot of parents would give their kids a coin or 2 to put in the kettle, and other people would have a bill pre-folded to place in the tiny kettle slot. When someone went to put some money in the kettle, I’d thank them and back off so they could donate in private.

  I saw a number of people walking in and out of the J.C. Penney store multiple times. One guy must have passed my way about 4 times and the fourth time through he put some money in the kettle. Then I saw him pass through a couple of more times.

  Ringing the tiny bell with the wooden handle started to get pretty tedious after the first half hour or so and my hand started to hurt. I found that by putting the bell between 2 fingers and making a fist, I could put my hands behind my back and shake the bell by moving my fist. When my fingers started to get a little sore, I’d switch fingers.

  At 7:30, I thought I only had a half hour to go, but then I felt a tap on my shoulder and there was Major McCarthy from the Salvation Army. He unlocked the kettle from the stand (not only is the kettle itself locked, it is also locked to stand itself), and I was on my way home. Last year I got a letter saying how much was collected during our shift and I expect I’ll get another one soon. It was fun ringing the kettle, and I got donations from young and old, and English and Spanish speaking people. It was nice to see so many people donate, but I’m glad it’s not my full time job.