Ringing the bell: tracking your money once it goes inside the Salvation Army red kettle

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - The donation buckets are out and the bell ringing has begun as local Salvation Army organizations begin their holiday campaigns.

Each year after Thanksgiving, bell ringing volunteers all over the country dedicate time out of their day to ring the bells, and greet guests as they walk into stores and businesses.

But what really happens once you put your dollar inside the famous red kettle?

"We take it to our local bank and it is deposited into our local Salvation Army account here in Nacogdoches, Texas and we use the money for utilities, medicines, doctor visits, bus tickets, driver license ID's, and clothing," said Luvenia Owens, the Region 1 Service Extension Representative for Salvation Army Lufkin.

The local Lufkin and Nacogdoches office pulls in about $2,000 a day, which helps them get to their estimated goal of about $80,000 each holiday season.

The Salvation Army is nothing more than an evangelical church that is known internationally for various reasons. But in the United States, it's red kettle, bells, and volunteers have become a symbol for Christmas time.

"I think it's just something that we've gotten accustomed to. Salvation Army has been in the United States 100 years and they've been ringing the bell for all these years and I think during Christmas time, I think that's just a norm," Owens says.

Stephen F. Austin University Student and kettle volunteer Megan Mortensen has been spending her days outside of stores like the Nacogdoches Belk ringing the bell and greeting shoppers as they pass through the entrance of the store.

"I literally stand here. I say Merry Christmas and I ring a bell. It's not hard and it's for a really good cause, so it's definitely worth it," Mortensen said.

Mortensen said she always thought the Salvation Army was an organization to help homeless people but found out recently a dollar can go a long way in helping anyone in a crisis.

Owens says the organization will not only help those whose car has broken down, but will go out of the way to help those in need.

"Your car breaks down and you have no other…and you're thousands of miles away from home and you've ran out of money. We will put you in a hotel, we will help you get that tire that blew out or whatever wrong with your vehicle. We will help you get that fixed," Owens said.

Owens says despite some negative criticisms from others, 100 percent of the proceeds earned through kettle donations goes back into the community.

Gary Makries, the Sales Manager for the Nacogdoches Belk, says it's easy for local stores to team up with the Salvation Army because Christmas is the season of giving.

"We try to reach out to the community on a regular basis basically to help out the needy," Makries said. "But especially during the holidays, people tend to give a little more and it's a great time as people are coming in. We have a lot of traffic and we try to earn a little bit more for people who need it."

But Mortensen said the Salvation Army is more than money, it's about the meaning of giving.

"Seeing all those people give really brought it home because I've been giving for years as a child and that day that I got to see all the other people give and it was really just amazing," Mortensen said.

For more information on the Salvation Army, visit salvationarmyusa.org. To visit the local Salvation Army in Lufkin, visit 412 S. 3rd Street, or in Nacogdoches at 118 E. Hospital Street, Suite 101.

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