Personality a bell ringer requirement

At various Central Oregon spots, you'll find pot, a bell and an outgoing ringer

Ben Botkin / The Bulletin /

Published Dec 19, 2012 at 04:00AM

Candy Klawitter gripped her bell and rang it merrily, greeting passersby.

She stood outside the entrance to the Bi-Mart on Northeast Second Street in Bend on a blustery winter day. The Salvation Army Red Kettle was nearby.

Stationed at one of the 18 spots in Deschutes County where bell ringers stand, Klawitter considers herself fortunate. In 2010, she lost her job at a Taco Bell in Redmond. Her work as a bell ringer is her first job since that time.

“I got lucky,” she said, ringing her bell.

When her money ran out, she became homeless. Sometimes she sleeps in her 2001 Chrysler. Other times, it's a tent.

Klawitter also is part of a Salvation Army tradition that dates back to 1891.

That year, Salvation Army Capt. Joseph McFee, based in San Francisco, set up a pot to collect funds for 1,000 Christmas dinners. He got the idea after seeing a pot for donations of stew or chili set up in Liverpool, England, where he'd been a soldier.

In subsequent years, the kettles quickly spread beyond the West Coast; they're now a common sight during the Christmas season.

“It was kind of one guy's idea,” said Maj. Robert Keene, who is based in Bend. “It just blossomed.”

Bell ringers are paid minimum wage. But the job candidates are scrutinized before they can pick up their bells. There are background checks, and applicants also need a friendly personality.

“We're looking for people who are outgoing, who are not afraid to talk to other people,” Keene said.

Part of that mission includes greeting people, regardless of whether they give. They may give on their way out the store, or give later in the holiday season at another spot, he said.

In the end, personality carries more weight than the jingle of the bell.

“Basically, the bell is an attention getter more than anything else,” Keene said. “It's the person that's there that actually makes a difference.”

The local Salvation Army has a goal of $85,000 in donations for the season. Bell-ringing season starts the Monday before Thanksgiving and ends on Christmas Eve. The money collected goes toward the nonprofit Christian organization's programs for the holiday season and beyond. Almost 2,000 area families have registered for boxes of food, toys and clothing. The money from kettles also goes to efforts like the year-round food bank.

And the bell-ringing jobs help out people like Klawitter.

Keene said the Salvation Army hires homeless people for the work, lining them up with clothing if necessary and providing showers through Bend's Community Center.

For Klawitter, 46, it's a job that will put gasoline in her car and cover her insurance. She may get gifts for her grandchildren, too.

She's quick to add that she will look for another job after the bells stop ringing.

“I'm not afraid to work,” she said.

Bell-ringing stations

Bend has 11 stations:

Three at the Fred Meyer store, 61535 U.S. Highway 97.

One at Walmart, 20120 Pinebrook Blvd.

One at JC Penney, 63455 N. U.S. Highway 97.

One at Shopko, 60 N.E. Bend River Mall Drive.

One at Grocery Outlet, 694 S.E. Third St.

One at Bi-Mart, 351 N.E. Second St.

One at each of the three Safeway stores; 320 S.W. Century Drive; 642 N.E. Third St.; 2650 N.E. U.S. Highway 20.

Redmond has six stations:

Two at Walmart, 300 N.W. Oak Tree Lane.

Two at the Fred Meyer store, 944 Southeast Veterans Way.

One at Safeway, 1705 S. U.S. Highway 97.

One at Bi-Mart, 1727 S.W. Odem Medo Road.

La Pine has one station:

Bi-Mart, 51670 Huntington Road.

When to give:

Hours may vary slightly among locations, but bell ringers are generally on site from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day except Sunday.

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