Column: You and I can make the difference

• Originally published in the Kane County Chronicle on Dec. 3, 2010

For one glorious hour on Thursday, I was a “celebrity.”

The Tri-Cities Salvation Army held a celebrity bell-ringing day Thursday at the Jewel in Batavia. And Maj. Steven Koehler of the Salvation Army was kind enough to invite me among many who are far better known throughout the community.

Other bell ringers included Kane County Sheriff Pat Perez – the honorary Christmas chairman for the Salvation Army – St. Charles Police Chief Jim Lamkin, Batavia Police Chief Gary Schira, Geneva Police Chief Steve Mexin, Illinois Rep. Tim Schmitz, Geneva High School principal Tom Rogers, Batavia Fire Chief Randy Deicke, Paul Sullivan, Lisa Haymond and Shawn Harms.

I was teamed with Batavia alderman Tom Schmitz and his wife, Nancy Schmitz, the administrator for The Batavia Foundation. From noon to 1 p.m., the three of us rang our bells and greeted people as they dropped money into the red kettle.

Koehler was happy with all of his “celebrities.”

“Everybody showed up, so I’m very pleased,” Koehler said.

This was the fourth year for the celebrity bell-ringing day, which Koehler put in place when he joined the Tri-Cities Salvation Army.

“There’s been a good response in the Tri-Cities area,” he said, “and it’s really made a difference.”

This year has been no different.

“We’re a little bit behind in red kettles,” Koehler said, “but we have a feeling we’ll make that up since we’re into December and more volunteers are becoming available.”

And even better, the Salvation Army is a bit ahead in direct mail giving from last year’s pace.

“It’s been a strong start,” Koehler said. “We’re very happy about that, especially knowing the needs are greater this holiday season.”

There certainly are more to serve this year. Right now, Koehler said, they have about 820 children whose Christmas they will be improving and there still is time for families in need to make a request.

The Salvation Army provides needy families with food boxes for the holidays, as well as toys for those ages 0 to 17. They also give out nursing home gifts to about 500, as well as provide year-round services such as providing items to food pantries and helping those in need with their rent, utilities, and prescriptions.

This year’s goal is to raise $350,000, and Koehler said they probably have raised about 30 percent of that.

Koehler, who worked two bell-ringing shifts on Thursday, must have been encouraged by what he saw as many of the people who walked out of the Jewel had a few dollars for the red kettle. And even those who just had change – mostly younger people – threw what they had into the bucket along with apologies to the bell ringers for not having more. No apologies needed. Every little bit counts.

“Absolutely,” Koehler said, “We’re very grateful for just a few coins, and it’s so nice to see young people apart from mom and dad toss their change into the kettle.”

Red kettles can be founds at Walmart, Sam’s Club, Jewel, Dominick’s, the Starbucks in downtown Geneva, and several shops on Third Street in Geneva, among other places. While we “celebrities” were there on Thursday, there are many others who are outside stores throughout the entire holiday season ringing bells and helping the Salvation Army.

And then there are those who give, many of whom were at Jewel on Thursday.

“I was seeing some very incredible, generous people, very, very happy to give,” Koehler said. “Just being on the receiving end when they place the contributions into the kettle, they just kind of light up. They know they’re doing the right thing and will be helping others during the Christmas season.”

When my hour was up, I knew my celebrity status had ended, too. As I went back to being a regular person and handed my bell to Paul Sullivan, I reached into my wallet and pulled out a $5 to drop into the bucket. Because, in the end, it’s regular people like you and me who can make the most difference in people’s lives.

Joe Grace is the editor of the Kane County Chronicle. Write to him at jgrace@kcchronicle.com or call him at 630-845-5368.

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