The ring of hope

Applicants for paid Salvation Army bell-ringer jobs mix commitment to helping others with their own need for work
Katherine Kitcher, Michelle Marlatt and Sam Flaugh interview for Salvation Army bell-ringer positions in Medford on Thursday. Mail Tribune / Jamie LuschJamie Lusch

A line of wannabe and returning Salvation Army holiday bell ringers queued up in west Medford yesterday hoping to ring in some money for themselves — and those in need.

Gary Anderson, 60, Michelle Marlatt, 20, Katherine Kitcher, 21, Daniel Cotter, 21, Sam Flaugh, 23, and his 21-year-old sister, Elizabeth Flaugh, joined about 15 other men and women Thursday afternoon hoping for a shot at one of the 40 available seasonal, minimum-wage jobs.

Want to be a paid bell ringer?

The Salvation Army will again conduct interviews for paid Christmas bell-ringer positions at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 31, at 226 N. Ross Lane (the former site of the Kid Time Discovery Zone).

The organization will fill 17 full-time positions, along with floater positions, for Monday-through-Saturday work.

Bell-ringing begins Friday, Nov. 16, at limited locations and will conclude on Christmas Eve.

For more information, call 541-773-6965.

Applicants must be able to provide two forms of identification, including one photo ID, along with the name, address and daytime phone number of two references.

Applicants must be able to pass a criminal background check to be employed by the Salvation Army, said Jackie Agee, development director.

Michelle Marlatt has never jangled one of the Army's brass bells before. But she showed up and turned in her paperwork hoping to get hired on this year and help those struggling with difficult family, emotional, or employment problems.

"I'm just hoping to get as much money as possible to help people," Marlatt said.

Capt. Martin Cooper, who is in charge of the local Salvation Army, gave applicants an idea of what happens to the money collected in the traditional red kettles. Last year $150 million was collected nationwide and donated to needy families, seniors and the homeless. The money they will collect will stay in Jackson County, Cooper said.

"We send children to camp with this money," Cooper said.

Donations also provide Christmas dinners, clothing and toys for families in need.

Many families receive aid over a period of months after the Christmas season as well. Volunteers distribute gifts to shut-ins in hospitals and nursing homes, and shelters are open for sit-down dinners. Families of prisoners often are included, according to the Salvation Army website.

The donations also pay the wages of the bell ringers who will collect donations at 20 different sites across the Rogue Valley, said Jackie Agee, development director for the Salvation Army.

The organization has 17 full-time positions available for Monday through Saturday work, along with floater work, she said.

Agee warned the applicants that they were signing up for cold, hard work. They'd be standing on their feet for hours, and expected to be pleasant and personable toward all, she said.

"We really need about 40 bell ringers," said Agee. "As the season goes on, people get sick. And some decide this is not for them."

The Flaugh siblings are experienced ringers who know the highs and lows of the job. Sam Flaugh has twice before been a bell ringer for the Salvation Army.

Sam Flaugh missed last season's application deadline. But he came back this year because he likes talking to donors, especially the "old military veterans," Flaugh said.

Flaugh said the venerable veterans regale him with tales of their time in service, and their memories of receiving free care packages from the Salvation Army.

"They have all kinds of stories," Flaugh said. "They tell me the Salvation Army was the only organization that helped them for free. They remember that. And they give every year."

Elizabeth Flaugh also enjoys talking to potential donors, provided they are not "rude people," she said.

"Sometimes you get a person who glares and says, 'I don't celebrate Christmas,' " Elizabeth Flaugh said. "I don't get why they have to get mad. It's a holiday."

Her brother agreed.

"I've had people tell me it's not right for me to be ringing a bell," he said. "But then you get all those nice people."

An out-of-work contractor, Anderson has been a bell ringer for four seasons both here in the Rogue Valley and in Portland.

"I need the money," Anderson said. "Besides, I like to convene with people. They have all those smiles and it's a good thing."

Other than battling the elements in inclement weather, Anderson said he's never had any mishaps as a bell ringer.

"I've never had anybody take the kettle or take the money," he said.

Technique varies among the bell ringers. Some clang their bells high and loud. Others keep their bells closer to the hip, Elizabeth Flaugh said.

"I'm a low ringer," she said. "Until the last week. Then I'm just ringing the bell!"

Her brother is a more exuberant ringer, but he underwent an adjustment period.

"The first year I could hear the bells ringing even in my sleep," he said. "But then I got used to it. I learned to tune it out."

Bell-ringing begins Friday, Nov. 16, at limited locations and will conclude on Christmas Eve.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.


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