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15 April 2009

Every November and December, we hear the familiar ring-a-ling from The Salvation Army’s Christmas Kettle stands, where volunteers are seen cheerfully ringing the bells and encouraging passers-by to donate to the pots.

More than just an annual tradition, the Christmas Kettle Pot is also where the love and concern for the many beneficiaries of The Salvation Army meet. It is the place where the effort of the volunteers who sacrificially give time to help man the pots, meets the generosity of the donors, and the dedication of Salvation Army personnel in caring for the beneficiaries. Whatever role one plays, whether volunteer, donor or Salvation Army care personnel, the focus remains the same—the world of the beneficiaries will be made better through the help given. As the slogan for The Salvation Army’s Christmas Kettle Appeal in other countries aptly puts it “when you put money in a Salvation Army kettle, expect change”, we too believe that changes happen in the lives of people who have chosen to make a difference. This change continues, even as the pots are returned to storage, awaiting the next time they make their appearance on the streets again.

At the conclusion of the Christmas Kettle Appeal in 2008, we have asked volunteers to share with us their stories and experiences of kettling…

Karen Chow and Family
"We had fun kettling as a family this year. My baby truly enjoyed the two hours of bell ringing because he got to meet all kinds of people and the ringing eventually put him to sleep."

Evelyn Koh and Ernest Leong
"My husband and I are first time kettlers and we thoroughly enjoyed the experience! The prospect of 2 hours on one's feet bell ringing and calling out greetings to passersby seemed daunting at first, but we had fun singing carols to passersby and time goes quickly when you're having fun!

We worked the last shift (7 - 9pm) on Christmas Eve at Harbourfront and to help get into the spirit of things, we each wore a red Santa cap. Sometime into oursecond hour, a couple of expats approached us, pointed at the Santa caps on our heads and said, " We've been looking all over to buy ourselves one of these and there isn't a single cap left in this entire shopping complex. How much do you want for yours? We'll buy them off you. How much do you want us to donate?"

... We thought to ourselves, "We could ask for a lot since they desperately want our hats!" but instead, the words that came out were, "Sure, you can have our caps. Donate whatever amount you would like!"

We let them try the caps first and then one of them took $22 dollars from his wallet and put it into the kettle. Not bad for two $2 caps!"

Ms Jeslyn Yong and Felice Yong
We were amazed and happy that many have come forward to donate. Many donors were also very encouraging with their smiles.

This boy and his mum came to take over the kettle after our 2 hours stint. So heartwarming to see parents teaching their young kids the goodness of sharing at such a tender age.

Mr Errol Goodenough
Many years ago, I did scuba diving. Despite diving for several years, there is always some apprehension plunging into the depths on the first dive of each trip.

Kettling in December 2008 brought a somewhat similar feeling for me. Despite having kettled earlier in 2008 for the Myanmar Cyclone Disaster Relief Appeal, I experienced the same amount of anxiety as I did the very first time. Actually, even more.

Questions like: Will people ignore us at this time of hardship? Will thin crowds and even thinner wallets prove to be discouraging? How will I cope with rejection, or snide remarks that I once experienced while kettling at Bugis?

… For the first ten minutes it looked like a self-fulfilling prophecy as no one even glanced in our direction. While the ringing bell helped draw attention, I found (as I did on my first kettling) that something more is needed to win over a prospective donor. And that something comes only when one plucks up courage to make short, yet sensitive verbal appeals.

I found that these worked well, along with all-important eye contact:

"Won't you spare some change? Just a few coins go a long way..."

"Make your Christmas really meaningful by helping the needy..."

"Yes, times are hard, but it's even harder for the under-privileged.."

At the end of my shift I can honestly say I was pleased with the response. At some points it was sheer delight to watch two or three donors queuing up to reach the kettle pot...

… For the moment, I would just like to say: "Thank you for opportunity to help”.

Joyce Tia and daughter
Being a single mum, I am always touched by the help offered by others. Today, I am happy that I can offer my little help to others and at the same time encourage my five year old daughter to be a volunteer to help others who are in need. She was very happy to be able to help out although she was quite tired after the kettling.

I was very touched by the passersby donating money especially when some students opened up their old wallets ,took out all the coins and happily dropped them into the pot. The coins could be their pocket money for the holiday but they donated all. Wow..

It is not an easy job to be the bellringer and in fact quite tiring. Having to man the pots for 2 hours with a hundred or thousand of passersby/shoppers, putting on a smiley face, and appealing for donations while ringing the bell and thanking the donors. Despite all these, it is definitely still a very fulfilling and meaningful experience.

In fact, the credit should go to my daughter who helped. She not only learned to ring the bell but also to bow her head, say thank you and greet donors with a ‘Merry Christmas’ and distribute calendars to them. Many parents saw her standing and ringing the bell and had in turn encouraged their kids to donate. Some even took a photo with her and one uncle who took over the next shift, had even wanted to ‘borrow’ my daughter as a bellringer.

I am glad I spent a meaningful Christmas this year by being a volunteer with my lovely daughter.

Mr. Tan Gim Leong
It was a great experience for me to volunteer as a Christmas Kettle Appeal bellringer. This was my first time doing volunteer work and it was indeed an enriching one for me.

During my stint as a bellringer, it was heartening to see many parents giving money to their children, getting them to drop it into the kettle pot and explaining to them what The Salvation Army is all about. This is indeed a good way for the parents to instill the notion of giving to charity to their children. Although my stint as a bellringer was a short one, I’m inspired to do more for charity. I would like to continue the volunteer service with The Salvation Army.

Ms Sarah Cumaraswamy
I heard about your appeal for more volunteeers to do kettling and decided to sign up with my friend. This is my first time working with The Salvation Army and I found it to be really enriching! I never had so much fun doing kettling, and my friend Mabel and me were literally “Ho, Ho, Ho-ing” throughout the time we were there…

… While I was reflecting on how this economic turndown was going to affect people contributing, what touched me most was the realization that there are still many kind donors with big hearts out there! They put in whatever they could, big or small amounts, not allowing the economic downturn to affect their giving. A school kid took out his wallet and poured all the coins he had and I thought that was really awesome! Parents were also teaching their kids what it meant to give as they come across the bell-ringers.

I found the whole experience very fulfilling and therapeutic and I have come to recognize that I am not alone in this depressing downturn. Both young and old donors have played a part in helping me understand that life is about giving with love—even if you have not got much to give. Perhaps one’s presence, a touch or smile is contagious enough to help us know that we are not alone in this difficult time. I am glad to have signed up as a volunteer and am thankful once again for this memorable experience!

Ms Elyse Leong and Family
My children had a good time kettling and we were singing to and greeting the donors throughout the whole time. Through knowing that all contributions count— no matter big or small—they were very thrilled to see big donors who would drop 50 and 10 dollars notes. My children left the experience in high spirits and they are keen to help out some more. Thank you again.

Ms Pearlin Kee
Thanks so much. I enjoyed my first experience kettling. I was approached the
previous year but didn't have the courage to do it. Last year when I was asked again, I considered it but still hesitated until another friend gave me the push, saying that she would join the kettling for the first time too.
Article originally published in the SA-V (Salvation Army Volunteer) Bulletin

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