For a number of years, the Salvation Army and the VFW Post 4667 have partnered to conduct the Red Kettle Campaign in Smyth County. The Red Kettle Campaign, first started in San Francisco in 1891, has traditionally been the Salvation Army's most prominent fundraiser. Locally, the collective work of the VFW and Salvation Army and the funds they raise stay right here in the area to help our friends and neighbors in need.

The past few years, I have volunteered a few hours of my time to help out. I learned about the need for volunteers through Mayor David Helms and members of the VFW with whom I attended church. Over the years, I have lost some of those friends. Others have suffered some pretty serious health issues and so I continued to help… first, because they needed me and, second, because I enjoy helping.

Ringing the bell for the Red Kettle Campaign can be a lot of fun and, like many tasks, it is true that many hands make for easy work. This year, the challenge that we are facing is that like my friends, many of the volunteer/veteran bell ringers are getting older and are less able to put the time in.

Frankly, many localities in our area are facing the same issue. Some locations have resorted to paying people to ring the bell, but to me, that takes some of the “Christmas” out of it. The requirements to be a bell ringer volunteer are pretty much twofold: show up and smile.

I don’t want to diminish the effort put in by my fellow volunteers. Nearly all of us are a year older than we were last year, and none of us have gotten any faster or stronger. But that said, if you have a willingness to give back, the Red Kettle Campaign is a great place to fulfill your desire to give.

Of course, I have always been part of a team of bell ringers. I have had the pleasure of working with two local celebrities, Bo and Ty Dawg, to ring the bell and bring smiles to people coming and going at the Food City stores in Marion and Chilhowie. While Ty and I lost Bo this past October, we are training another helper, Bear, to entice shoppers to give.

Some have poked good natured fun at our efforts saying, “It isn’t fair to have two sad-eyed pups helping. We respond with a question: “Would you go fishing without bait? We are fishing for dollars and Springer Spaniels are excellent bait!”

While the dogs are fun and help pass the time, we go for the people, not the dogs. Some say that they like dogs (or any animal) more than people, but there is a danger there if you aren’t really careful. From Genesis 1:27, we learn that God created people in his image. It is important to love people, even when they aren’t acting very loveable.

And so I suppose that is why I volunteer to ring the bell…. my love of my friends and not yet friends. I go to help the people who volunteered to go fight for us; I go to help the neighbor in need. I go to fill my soul with the blessing of being needed.

I invite you to join the effort to ring the bell and fill the kettle. You can investigate the time slots needed simply by visiting a store front where the red kettles are displayed and check the back of the sign for the list of volunteers and times slots. Those slots that are blank are waiting for you to fill them.

We need your help and I think you will find that being a friend to those in need (both volunteers and recipients of the Red Kettle funds) will fill you with the true spirit of Christmas.


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A Smyth County resident and farmer, Dr. Andy Overbay serves as the community’s agriculture and natural resources extension agent.

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