BY LORAINE ANDERSON
---- — TRAVERSE CITY Tom Mountz rang his first bell for the Salvation Army as a little boy with his granfather downstate in the mid-1950s.
He took some time off while growing up, but started again about 20 years ago when he and his wife, Julie, had children of their own.
“I wanted my young children to see and experience it,” he said. “Now they’re 24 and 26.”
For the next five Wednesday nights this Christmas season, the Benzie County resident will ring the bell and mind the Salvation Army Red Kettle from 5-8 p.m. outside Horizon Books downtown.
“It’s fun," he said. “For me that’s a big part of it. I get to see people I haven’t seen for a year. And it’s nice to see so many people digging into their pockets and putting money in. Maybe their parents modeled that."
Mountz, a 38-year National Park Service employee, usually works the bell solo, but this year he’s decided to help recruit more volunteers in his own way. He’s persuaded some friends to join him at the Red Kettle.
“I hope it will be a soft entry to get more people to volunteer,” he said. “You just ring the bell, greet and thank them. People can’t always donate money, but they can donate time.”
He has tips for future bell ringers, including: wear layers of clothing, extra socks and heavy boots. Bring foam pads like the kind you’d use for gardening to stand on to keep your feet off the pavement.
“Anyone who is considering it, absolutely should do it,” he said. “It is fun. Sometimes it does get cold and you don’t have that many customers, but by the end of the evening, you have money in the bucket, and it’s nice to know that somebody who needs it is going to get it.”
Thanksgiving comes a week later this year, so the Salvation Army’s bell ringers started early at 25 locations, said Capt. Daren Spencer.
Volunteers still are needed to fill 2,350 two-hour Red Kettle Campaign shifts across the city during the next six weeks.
Volunteers don’t ask for money, they just smile and ring bells. Spencer said.
“People know what the Red Kettle symbol means,” he said. “We’re looking for people who want to go out and have a good time. The big thing will be the cold, but we’re from northern Michigan and we know how to dress warm and be outside in winter.”
Volunteers come from all walks of life and include families, school students, service clubs members, business offices, churches, scout groups, sports teams, he said.
“We usually staff with one, but some volunteers like to come out with someone. Some of the younger ones like to sing. We encourage people to play an instrument or sing.”
It’s easy to sign up for a shift or shifts, said Steve Francis, the Army’s planned giving officer for western Michigan.
Francis rang a bell with Sunrise Rotary Club member Ted Watson and played Christmas songs on his harmonica Thursday afternoon in front of Horizon Books.
People can volunteer online at satraversecity.org by clicking on the “volunteers” tab at the top of the home page. Would-be volunteers also can call Mary Vollink at 231-946-4644, ext. 308 or email her at mary_vollinkusc.salvationarmy.org.
Mary Wollam of Traverse City dropped a dollar into the kettle as Francis talked Thursday.
“I try to put something in every time I go by," she said. "It's not a lot, but it adds up. The Salvation Army does a lot of good.”