Ringing up $180,000
"Every year God pulls us through"
The holiday season's been up and down for Ann Arbor's Salvation Army. With a goal of $180,000, the bell ringers were down $2,000 the day before Thanksgiving, then up $800 the day after, down a week later by $1,400, then up the next day by $1,700 after donors slipped several very large checks into the Army's bright red kettles.
Two weeks before Christmas, the bell ringers were down again. "Friday was not really good," reports Major Dianna Williams, the woman in charge of the Army's Ann Arbor outpost. "We're at $101,000 of our goal, and last year we were at $102,000 [at this point in the season]. But we're doing better than Ypsilanti, which had $6,100 last year and has $5,400 this year. And the county as a whole is down $8,800 or five percent from last year.
"We need to make three hundred thousand dollars in our kettle programs to keep what we do happening," explains Williams, a twenty-year veteran serving her first tour in Ann Arbor. "It's easily the single biggest part of our budget. If we make our goal, we will feed five hundred families. If we don't, we will have to let some things go."
Like all Salvation Army sites, the twenty-five kettles in Ann Arbor are staffed from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturdays - Sundays are set aside for services - by a mix of paid and volunteer bell ringers. "Paid bell ringers are people who can't get a job anywhere else," says Williams. "Volunteers are people doing it for the love of it. And volunteers have been down this year."
Down until now, that is. "We believe we had a good Saturday," says Williams, "and we think the reason is because we had a lot of volunteers out there. They have a lot of enthusiasm, and every volunteer is all profit."
Williams has faith they'll hit their numbers. "Every year it's like this, and every year
we get fearful, and every year God pulls us through. I do believe that when it's all over at 3 o'clock on December 24, if we're not there, we'll get there. Because people will find out we did not make our goal - and they're not going to want to see that, and they're going to write checks after Christmas and then we will make our goal. It's happened every time before and it's going to happen again.
"Why? Because people care about those out there who don't have food, who don't have a job, who don't have a home. They care because they know how close they are to being on the serving line themselves.
"And," Williams concludes, "every time there's been a recession, we have the best years - and the economy has gotten very bad this year."
[Originally published in December, 2008.]