ANDERSON — Frankie Smith has spent almost three decades ringing bells for the Salvation Army Red Kettle Campaign.
This week he had to walk away from his job.
“It’s killing me because I want to do it,” Smith said choking back tears. “This year it will be 28 years and felt like I was devoted to Salvation Army and to God. I would tell people God bless them for giving.”
Smith, 69, was paid to ring bells for the agency, but he said it was something he loved to do.
“I brought in lots of money through the years,” he said. “I could bring in three buckets a day. I was that good of a bell ringer. It got to where I knew everyone in town.”
Smith said he used his wages to pay for his grandchildren’s Christmas presents.
On Monday, Smith said he was ringing his bell at the Red Kettle outside of Wal-Mart when he started to have terrible chest pain.
“I was hurting so bad I thought I was having a heart attack,” he said. “But it’s not my heart, I have acute bronchitis.”
Doctors have told Smith, a former smoker, that his lungs cannot support working in the frigid Indiana temperatures.
“He said I breathed in too much cold air and at my age I should not do that anymore,” Smith said. “I never had a cold in my whole life until this year.”
While Smith struggles with the advice of his doctor, he said he is more worried that the Salvation will be short workers for the holiday season.
“They can’t get the volunteers like they should,” he said. “Back in the olden days, as a kid growing up, there were bell ringers everywhere.”
Salvation Army Captain Dennis Marak said each year manning the kettles has become harder and harder.
“We are having an extremely hard time finding bell ringers and volunteers,” he said. “The more money we have to spend for paid bell ringers the less money we have to help people. We are extremely low on donations this year. ”
The money raised through the Red Kettle Campaign is used to help people pay for their utilities, assist with food and support the charity’s operations. This year the Salvation Army hopes to raise $231,000.
“Every dollar we raise stays here,” he said. “All the money we raise in Madison County, stays in Madison County. And 85 percent of every dollar goes back to people in direct assistance.”
Shirley Hayden of Anderson was shopping at the Hobby Lobby when she stopped to offer words of kindness to a woman ringing a bell in the single-digit temperatures on Wednesday.
“It takes a very special person to do it,” she said.
Michelle Bumgardner, 40, thanked Hayden and continued to greet every shopper with a blessing and smile.
“It’s a little cold,” Bumgardner said as a light snow coated her head and shoulders. “I can definitely feel it in my face.”
Bumgardner said the news about Smith was devastating.
“He looked forward to it every year,” she said.
Salvation Army kettles are located at various shopping locations around the county and in some businesses including the lobby of The Herald Bulletin.
This year the newspaper has created an Empty Stocking Fund for the Salvation Army. Anyone who makes a contribution to the fund can provide their name to be published in the newspaper. Donations, which can be mailed or brought to the newspaper, can also remain anonymous. All checks should be made out to the Salvation Army.
The Herald Bulletin will publish periodic updates with a list of donors and the number of donations received. See Page A3 for the most recent list.
Tonight’s showing of The Christmas Story, at 7 p.m. at the Paramount Theatre, 1124 Meridian Plaza, is also being sponsored by The Herald Bulletin with all proceeds benefiting the Empty Stocking Fund.
Marak said every donation made this year will help someone in need. He said local residents have always gone out of their way to support their community; he just hopes they continue to be generous.
“The people in Madison County are very community minded,” he said. “They care for people and by helping the Salvation Army their money will be given to people in need in Madison County.”
Like Traci L. Moyer on Facebook and follow her @moyyer on Twitter, or call 648-4250.
'A Christmas Story' tonight A special showing of the Christmas classic "A Christmas Story" at 7 o'clock tonight at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Anderson will benefit The Herald Bulletin's Empty Stocking Fund. Admission to the movie will be $2. All proceeds will funnel through the Empty Stocking Fund to The Salvation Army to provide necessities to local families in need throughout the year. Fund Update An update on the Empty Stocking Fund and a list of recent donors, Page A3.