Groups race to raise money for charity Reigning champ is Team Wagner GLEN BURNIE

December 23, 1992|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Staff Writer

This could be the year the Methodist Men finally nickel-and-dime Team Wagner out of first place in the annual battle of the kettles.

For the past three years, the team of 70 Democrats, friends and relatives of state Sen. Michael J. Wagner, a Ferndale Democrat, has collected more money for the Salvation Army than any other group of volunteers.

"They're hard to beat, I tell you," said Pete Warfield, who heads both the Methodist Men and another team, C&P Workers.

Mr. Warfield and Mr. Wagner are engaged in the annual battle of the kettles. Volunteer groups compete to see which can bring in the most money for the Northern Anne Arundel Salvation Army. The troops stand by the kettles, hoping passers-by at malls and food stores will toss in a contribution -- the larger, the better.

For three years running, Team Wagner has taken first place. The Methodist Men, 23 who hail from Glen Burnie United Methodist Church, took first place twice in the few years before that.

They aim to recapture the title. And they may be on the way. "We've had some really good nights," Mr. Warfield said.

But maybe not. "We've had to take a stick and punch the money in," said Mr. Wagner, determined not to relinquish his grasp on the top spot.

The friendly contest runs from Thanksgiving weekend until Christmas Eve, as eight volunteer bands stand by the kettles. The Salvation Army solicits kettle donations at 14 sites.

At some lucrative spots, the organization pays people to man the kettles when nobody volunteers, said director Peggy Vick. While many individuals do volunteer as kettle workers, a few groups vie to get their name on the Salvation Army's four-sided, first- , second- or third-place brass bell trophies. The

trophies are reminiscent of the bells kettle workers traditionally ring to draw attention.

The money is totaled in January, though a recent interim count showed Team Wagner leading the Methodist Men, but not by much.

Team Wagner has the advantage of politicians standing outside Giant Foods in Cromwell Fields Shopping Center. A pair of team members has been manning the kettle for 11 hours most Fridays and 13 hours most Saturdays since Thanksgiving, shivering, ringing the bell and thanking contributors with striped mints and much-practiced handshake.

Also, the group has stashed donation cans in bars and restaurants. "We don't want to lose it this year," Mr. Wagner said. His team's name is on three sides of a first-place trophy that will be retired after this season.

The Methodist Men worked in Glen Burnie Mall every Friday evening and did a 12-hour stint the Saturday after Thanksgiving, one of the busiest shopping days of the year. C&P Workers, a mix of Woodlawn engineers and North Arundel community relations workers, take Tuesday and Thursday nights there.

Not that the mall is an ideal place. It may be warmer, but mall rules prohibit solicitors from ringing the bell.

"We say 'Merry Christmas.' You sort of make eye contact with the people. Sometimes you say, 'Would you like to donate to the Salvation Army,' " said Mr. Warfield, a retired C&P worker from Severn.

The bell initially may draw more attention, Mr. Warfield acknowledged, but a personal invitation should not be undervalued: "Last Thursday, a guy peeled off a 20 and dropped it in," Mr. Warfield said.

A newcomer to the competition has its eyes on the trophy. The Lake Shore Rotary was in third place last week, working 10- to 12-hour Saturdays at the Safeway at Lake Shore Plaza. Mel Velten of Pasadena said he expects the 12 men working the kettle to be so pleased with even temporarily taking third that they will want to put in more hours next year to take first place.

"They're really bringing in the bucks," said Ms. Vick. And that is the point of the contest.

Overall kettle contributions netted about $50,000 last year, nearly a quarter of the group's budget, Ms. Vick said. About $10,000 of that came from the competitive volunteers.

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