Hear them ring

Our view: Cutting back Salvation Army bell ringers is a mistake

November 26, 2010

Breathes there a man with soul so dead he hasn't felt better about himself after dropping a donation in a Salvation Army red kettle?

Apparently so. Responding in part to shoppers' aversion to being asked for money, Giant Food has cut back the amount of time Salvation Army workers can ring their bells outside some of their area supermarkets. This holiday season, the bell ringers at some Giant stores are limited to four-hour stretches for 12 days in November and December. Last year, the ringers worked about 40 days at stores during those two months.

To quote Sgt. Sarah Brown, Sky Masterson's love interest in "Guys and Dolls" — one of the many musicals and films that have paid tribute to the Salvation Army — "Ding, dong, ding, dong, ding!"

In the eyes of the grocery store, this new policy is simply being fair by allowing other nonprofit fundraisers to solicit, one at a time, outside their doors. But the Salvation Army is not just another nonprofit, it is the very embodiment of holiday tradition and has been for about 120 years.

Those "Silver Bells" that we sing about — the ones that tell us "it's Christmas time in the city"? They were inspired by Salvation Army ringers.

That band that plays " Santa Claus is Coming to Town" in Jean Shepherd's "A Christmas Story" — arguably the best bit of holiday literature ever written — was composed of Salvation Army musicians.

And when Charles Halloran convinces Judge Henry X. Harper in "Miracle on 34th Street" to rule that there is a Santa Claus, he cites the presence of the Salvation Army Santas on every corner. That happens to be an exaggeration (Salvationists, as they are called, don't dress up like Santa) — but hey, it's the movies.

Hollywood depictions aside, the Salvation Army does a serious amount of good work. It helps the needy all year 'round. In the Baltimore area, the Salvation Army hopes to collect about 8 percent of its annual budget, or $600,000, in kettles this holiday season.

Major Roger Coulson, the greater Baltimore area commander, reports that not every Giant in the area is cutting back on bell-ringing hours. This weekend and throughout the holiday season, about 100 Salvation Army workers will be manning kettles at malls as well as outside many other area supermarkets. When you hear a bell ringer, give generously. It won't feel like Christmas if you don't.

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