The Salvation Army's Red Kettle tradition dates back to 1891 in San Francisco, when the organization's Capt. Joseph McFee was determined to provide a free Christmas dinner for about 1,000 of the Bay Area out-of-work seaman and longshoremen and their families.
The Red Kettle drive is the Salvation Army's largest annual fundraiser but it doesn't happen without bell ringers, said Pine Bluff Salvation Army's Capt. Jason Perdieu.
He said about this Christmas season, "We absolutely need as many bell ringers as we can get."
And it's easy to sign up online, and everyone from high school students and families to churches, organizations and retirees are welcome to ring the bell.
Lots of volunteers do it in honor of or memory of a loved one or their parents, often carrying on a family tradition. For some, it's about fulfilling community service hours or because it looks great on a high school transcript, Perdieu said.
"While for others, it makes them realize the importance of giving. Some do it because they've been on the receiving end [of charitable giving]," Perdieu said.
Trammell Howell, Pine Bluff Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) president, and her group rang the bell Nov. 19 at Walgreens on 28th Avenue. The group included Candace Johnson, Marshall Burgess, Challon Iverson and Gionna Logan.
"We've been doing this for years," Howell said.
They lead by example and encourage on-campus student organizations to step up as well.
Whether someone's still in school or graduated 50 years ago, Howell urges all those who can to ring the bell for the betterment of the community.
"It's that important," Howell said.
MORE THAN CHRISTMAS DINNER
The Salvation Army iron pots were replaced with red kettles decades ago but the tradition lives on across America as well as in 132 countries around the world.
Perdieu is a fourth generation member of Salvation Army and has served as an officer for 13 years.
Like many other organized religions such as Baptists, the Salvationists do good and charitable deeds. Thus, the Salvation Army was born out of their religious beliefs and practices. But, Perdieu said, while they now belong to a worldwide organization, all the money collected in Jefferson County stays in Jefferson County.
"Need knows no season," Perdieu said.
The money is no longer about a single meal, but is used to fund the nonprofit's activities year-round.
In part, these include operating an emergency shelter, distributing food, running a thrift store, and sending youth to a five day sleep stay at Camp Heart O' Hills in Welling, Okla.
KEEP THE BELL RINGING
For those who want to volunteer, go to www.registertoring.com, and for those without the time to ring a bell, a cash donation is always welcome.
Contributions may be dropped off in a Salvation Army pot at Walmart Supercenter, Walgreens, Food Smart, all at Pine Bluff, or Brookshire's stores at Pine Bluff and White Hall. Donations may also be dropped off or mailed to Salvation Army, 501 E. 12th Ave., Pine Bluff, Ark., 71601. Details: TheSalvationArmyofPineBluff/ on Facebook.
For more history on the Salvation Army, visit https://www.salvationarmyusa.org/usn/history-of-the-salvation-army/