Lessons from the Red Kettle

By: Rick Carder

Every year it’s a joy to volunteer my time in the community. This year, I took time out of my schedule to volunteer with Marion’s Salvation Army‘s Red Kettle. For just a couple of hours, I stood outside of the Marion Walmart greeting the patrons as they entered and exited.

Volunteering is a lot of fun and especially when it’s within your particular niche. My niche just happens to be conversation. I love to greet people and listen to their stories. Perhaps that’s why I am enjoying my time in the Indiana Wesleyan University Alumni Association as the Director of Alumni & Church Relations.

Ringing the bell for the Salvation Army is a blast in my opinion. If you enjoy observing people and interacting with them, I would highly recommend this experience. It is most interesting to me to see the reaction of people who either avoid looking at you or make every effort to let you know that they have already donated. I happen to enjoy the former more, because it is a challenge to get people to break out of their comfort zone and offer you at least a gesture of a greeting. It’s usually the nod of the head or a simple wave.

I have observed three different types of people during my time ringing the bell. First, you have the avoiders. These are the people that will go out of their way to look away and pretend they don’t hear your bell ringing and verbal greetings. One lady, who did everything she could to avoid talking to me, pretending to not hear me at first and then when it was all to obvious I was there, looked into her purse as if to grab a cell phone call. I remembered her and when she came out later I loved the opportunity to get her attention. “Hello again, and good evening,” I said. While looking straight at me, she walked past as if I was invisible. Now I’m certain she heard me because her eyes seem to convey an assurance of my existence, but she was not going to communicate with so much as a wave or nod of the head. She simply kept walking. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, I’m certain that she had other things on her mind. Perhaps they were burdens or a fear that somehow talking to me would commit her to dropping a few coins in the Red Kettle.

Then there are the people who just simply respond to my greeting with a simple echo of my greeting. “Good afternoon!” I’d say, and they would mutter, “Good afternoon to you as well”. I refer to them as the echo. This is the basis of society called reciprocity, the reciprocating of your smile or kind words but never going beyond that simple response.

You may be like the third person I encountered in my bell ringing. These people represent the true heart of charity and perhaps the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This usually calls for a little special treatment of their response. Perhaps they not only say hello back, but they also say God bless you or thank you for being here and even offer a kind gift of a donation in the Red Kettle.

Scripture speaks often about this golden rule, going the extra mile and give cheerfully. The Christian faith is full of examples both in scripture and in life of how important it is to put others ahead of yourself. In order for a society to better itself, we need to have charity and goodwill with a splash of hope that reflects the love God has for each one of us.

This time of year there are many who are ringing bells, trying to call attention to their favorite cause. They desire to bring goodwill to one and all. It is this time of year that we think of the Christmas carols and even reflect on Charles Dickens, Christmas Scrooge. It is this time of year when charity seems to come to life visibly and in real, tangible ways.

One young lady with her six-year-old stopped at the Red Kettle and told me simply, “I can’t walk past a single one of these Red Kettles without putting something in!” as she stuffed several dollar bills into the kennel. “This organization helped me when I was in great need, and they bought gifts for my son. I am grateful and especially now that I’m on my feet I can give back so that others will have the same opportunity I once needed from this great organization.“

So take note the next time you hear that faint bell ringing; there is much to be gained through charity. There are so many benefits because of it. May that bell ringing remind you that we can do for others as we would have done to us. In this we could reflect the kind of love that God extended to us when we were yet undeserving. It is through our acts of kindness we show others that we best demonstrate the love and goodwill of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

“Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” – (Saint Francis of Assisi) St. Francis of Assisi



Written by Reverend Rick Carder, Director of Alumni and Church Relations for Indiana Wesleyan University’s Alumni Office.