Standing outside Walmart in Seymour on a cold Tuesday night, members of Seymour Middle School’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes rang bells for The Salvation Army Red Kettle Campaign.

As people dropped money into the bucket, the students said, “Thank you” and “Merry Christmas.”

They also sang along to Christmas music on the radio, and some even played holiday tunes on their band instruments. When children came by, they handed out candy canes and suckers.

The students realize the money will help people who can’t afford to pay their bills or need financial assistance for life’s necessities. It also was a time for them to realize how grateful they are for what they have.

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“I really enjoy giving money to people who don’t have the opportunities in life that some of us have. I know The Salvation Army, they do a lot of good things for very unfortunate people, and I just want to help out with that,” eighth-grader Harrison Cottrill said.

“They are a good organization. They help a lot of people,” fellow eighth-grader Grace Rennekamp said. “It makes you really thankful for what all you have and just want to help more.”

Another eighth-grader, Carlee Robinson, said it’s important for the group to come together and help the community.

“I like helping my community so that others can be helped if they aren’t able to do it themselves,” she said. “It makes me feel good about myself that I’m helping my community and others that need help. Just because I have something doesn’t mean everybody else does, so we should always help others.”

Eighth-grader Bailee Wolfe said it’s interesting to see people of all ages donating, including several fellow middle-schoolers who added money to the kettle as they walked into the store with their families.

Luke Turner said he hopes those kids seeing others their age donating their time will inspire them to either give money or register to ring the bell.

“It’s a good thing for people to know that we’re actually trying, not just standing up here, we’re not being forced to do it,” the eighth-grader said. “We’re actually doing it because we want to, and we want to help give back. It’s really cool that we can all work together for a common good.”

‘Demonstrate our faith’

Kathy Beavers, who is in her first year as adviser of FCA, said the organization has helped ring bells in the past. She and her family also have done it through their involvement with Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.Besides ringing the bells this holiday season, FCA also plans to help wrap gifts for the annual Sertoma Christmas Miracle project and donate items to Anchor House Family Assistance Center.“If we’re talking about FCA and the fact about being a Christian, it’s a way for us to demonstrate our faith and our love for others just by looking at the season and being able to demonstrate that to others,” she said. “We can give up a couple of hours of our time for a good cause. It’s going to help a lot of people out in a big way.”

FCA plans to ring the bell two more days during the campaign, which started the day after Thanksgiving and runs through Christmas Eve. Beavers said about two-thirds of the group’s nearly 45 members signed up to help out.

“In our community in particular, we have such a diversity. We have people who have a lot, but we also have a large amount of people who don’t,” she said. “For them to be able to see that there is such a need … if we can help any way to help families that are struggling, we need to.”

Locally, The Salvation Army is a Jackson County United Way partner agency that operates through the Human Services Inc. office in Seymour. That has always made sense because their missions run parallel, said Missy Woods, director of Human Services Inc. in Jackson County.

“It’s meeting the needs of people that are in need,” she said.

‘Happy to be there’

Each year, Jackson County is among the leaders in the state of money raised through the Red Kettle Campaign, collecting between $20,000 and $32,000. All of the money stays in the county to provide assistance to local residents.Woods said the fundraising goal really doesn’t matter as long as they have the funds to meet the needs of people coming into her office.“Of course, I’m a competitive person by nature, so I always want to see us at least hit that $25,000 goal,” she said. “I’ve never had to really truly worry about that because we have that community that steps up. If I call and they have a need, someone is saying, ‘Where do you need me? And, how much time do you need from me?’”

Several businesses, organizations and individuals have signed up to ring bells at Walmart. It runs from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day except Sundays.

Seymour city employees always sign up to ring on the first Monday of the campaign, and Woods said they raised $1,343 this past Monday.

While she was happy to see that total, Woods said, something else stood out as she visited the store throughout the day.

“I saw the city employees work with more passion and more excitement and more energy than I have ever seen them. They were a delight,” she said. “I stopped by Walmart many times during their shifts and just chatted them up, and they were happy to be there. In times past, it was like, ‘Let’s get this over with’ type of thing and ‘I’m doing my due diligence here.’ But (this year) they were happy to be there.”

Woods said that goes along with what she is seeing around the county, including Vision 2025 and other local initiatives that are giving people an opportunity to make a difference.

“They have to be inspired to get involved, and that’s what’s happening,” she said. “There’s this inspiration there that hasn’t been there for quite some time. There has been a lot of talk, but not so much a lot of walk. We are in the middle of morphing into something fabulous, something exciting. There is this electricity and palpable energy that we have right now in the community, and that is coming over to The Salvation Army.”

More ringers sought

The Salvation Army is in its second year of making it easier for people to sign up to be a bell ringer through registertoring.com. The website allows people to enter their location and look for open spots on the calendar.Woods said while that registration method was available last year, it’s being utilized more this year.“Everything is going forward with technology, so we have to follow along with that,” she said.

If people aren’t comfortable with technology, they can still call the Human Services office to register, Woods said.

Social media also is being utilized more this year. The Salvation Army is doing more marketing on television, “Red Kettle Reason” YouTube videos share people’s stories of why they ring the bell and #redkettlereason and #joyinringing are being used as people take pictures of themselves ringing the bell and post them on Facebook and Twitter.

Woods also spread the word of The Salvation Army on #GivingTuesday, which is a movement the Tuesday after Thanksgiving to encourage people to give.

“I share the stories that I hear from our participants with the community so they understand more what their dollars are doing and what we’re doing as a community and where we’re trying to go,” Woods said.

“Ultimately, what we’re doing is trying to take a family and a household from poverty and moving them forward to a better quality of life,” she said. “Through the collaborations, it’s happening, but people don’t see the whole picture like I get to see the whole picture. So I have to share with our participants what our community is doing and share with the community what our participants are saying and what their needs are.”

Woods is in a unique position, where she works with people who are asking for help and also those who are willing to donate their time or money.

“I can’t do it all by myself here. I’m one person in this office. We can’t do it with the five programs that we run out of this office,” she said. “It takes other people. It really does take an entire community to make a difference, and I see those people coming together and working together that I’ve never seen before. That’s the rewarding part about it.

“The joy that I have and I think that people share with one another as they do this is really tops with me,” she said. “It’s humbling to see so many people step forward for such a neat thing.”

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The Salvation Army Red Kettle Campaign is underway.

Bell ringers will be outside Walmart in Seymour from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily except Sundays through Dec. 24.

To serve as a bell ringer, sign up online at registertoring.com or call the Human Services Inc. office in Seymour at 812-522-8718.