Volunteers are standing outside local stores right now ringing bells for the Salvation Army’s annual Red Kettle fundraiser and you might just see a familiar face braving the snow, cold and rain.
South Russell Mayor Bill Koons, a member of the Rotary Club of the Chagrin Valley, has been ringing the bells for six years. This year he is volunteering outside Starbucks in Chagrin Falls. “People are very generous and happy to see us,” Mayor Koons said. “They bring us hot chocolate and we see a lot of friends. It’s fun to be out there.”
In Geauga County, members of four Rotary clubs, including the Rotary Club of the Chagrin Valley, the Burton Middlefield Rotary Club, the Chesterland Rotary Club and the Chardon Rotary Club are out ringing the bells for the 24th year. Rotarians plan to man the red kettles on this Saturday and Dec. 15 with the members of the youth Interact Clubs from Chardon, Kenston and West Geauga school districts and with Leadership Geauga youth groups. Everyone takes a two-hour stint.
The Rotary Club bell ringers will be at the local Giant Eagle stores, Chardon and Middlefield Walmart stores, the Chagrin Starbucks and Yours Truly restaurant in Chagrin Falls and at Drug Mart and Mazzulo’s Market, both in Bainbridge.
Bainbridge Police Chief Jon Bokovitz, member of the Rotary Club of the Chagrin Valley, has been ringing the bells for some years, often accompanied by Linda Hein, also a Rotary member and former Kenston Local School District treasurer.
“Most people come up and are very friendly and a large percent donate something,” Chief Bokovitz said. “The first time I did it, I was surprised to see how many gave money. I like to believe the time spent collecting the donations is being helpful to the people who need it,” he said. He and Mrs. Hein will be out 1-3 p.m. on Dec. 15.
One hundred percent of the donations remain in Geauga County to help with emergency assistance as with home heating costs, past due rent and gas cards to get to work.
Mrs. Hein said they will be at the Giant Eagle store at Tanglewood Square Shopping Center on Dec. 15. “Over the years we’ve gotten to know a lot of people and just about everyone donates,” she said. “It’s a great community. They are so generous.”
“We have our aprons and bells and lots of warm clothes, and we give out candy canes to the kids that come by.” She has been known to dance while ringing the bell and people love it. “You have to keep your feet warm,” she said of standing in the cold for two hours.
Former Kenston Superintendent Bob Lee has been a bell ringer for several years, usually at the Drug Mart in Bainbridge. “It’s a great season and people are giving,” he said adding that sometimes people slip a rolled up $50 bill into the kettle.
Sometimes the Interact students dance and sing near the kettles.“They are much more animated then us,” he said of the “older” bell ringers. “They add spice to the bell ringing.”
Mrs. Hein noted that for several years Gerry Hartley coordinated the red kettle bell ringing for the Rotary Club of the Chagrin Valley, before Tom Morrow started his duties in overseeing the program.
Mr. Morrow, who has been a member of the Rotary Club of the Chagrin Valley for more than 25 years, said Interact students from Kenston High School will be ringing the bells from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 8 at the Giant Eagle store at Tanglewood Shopping Center in Bainbridge
The Chagrin Falls School District Interact students will be at Starbucks and Yours Truly from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 8.
Rotary sponsors the Interact Clubs and the youth members are guided by the Rotary principle, “Service Above Self,” Mr. Morrow said. “We’ve been ringing the bells for over 20 years.” About 35 members of the Chagrin Valley Rotary are involved, he said.
Roger Kallock, a member of the Rotary Club of the Chagrin Valley, plans to take a ringing shift at the Giant Eagle in Bainbridge Dec. 15.
Kids love to throw coins in the kettle, Mr. Kallock said. “Grade school and younger children see the red kettle and are encouraged by their parents to put money in to help. It’s a lesson of helping in their early stages of life.”
Connie Jones, a treasurer and volunteer for the Salvation Army Service Unit serving Geauga County and in years past, said the unit paid bell ringers. More than 20 years ago, she said, Rotaries were asked to get involved. She was a member of the Chesterland Rotary.
“Every single penny that goes into the kettles in Geauga County stays in the county,” said Ms. Jones who still helps out. “It’s amazing how many people need help here.”
Karen Sindelar, intervention specialist at Chagrin Falls Schools and the Interact adviser, said the Rotary Club of the Chagrin Valley approached her about offering a learning opportunity to the club. “We currently have 14 students who are signed up to work two-hour shifts Saturday. They are hopeful many community members and holiday shoppers will donate to this wonderful cause,” she said of the Dec. 8 bell ringing in Chagrin Falls.
Jim Bohinc, a member of the Chesterland Rotary, coordinates the bell ringing program for the club. They have been participating for more than 20 years. “We decided to challenge the other Rotary clubs and all four Rotaries have been involved for 19 years,” he said.
And 10 years ago, they started the Interact Club at West Geauga High School, Mr. Bohinc said. Over those years, more than 1,500 students have participated.
Mr. Bohinc recalled how in the past a World War I veteran would come to donate and he related how much the Salvation Army did for them in the World War I trenches. “That was great for the high school students to learn,” he said.
“I’m very proud of the kids who are involved,” Mr. Bohinc said, noting they are very enthusiastic. “And when they sing Christmas carols while ringing the bells, people want to donate more.”
Mr. Bohinc also recalled how a gold coin was once found in a kettle. It was auctioned for $360 to benefit the Salvation Army funds. People bring in the coins they save in jars, he added. For some people it is an annual tradition to give to the kettle fund.
Mr. Bohinc and his wife Jan count the donations, stacking the coins and taking all the funds to the bank.
Brian Brockway is a member of the Burton-Middlefield Rotary and coordinator of the bell-ringing campaign for the Rotary. He noted how the Rotary clubs participate in a friendly competition to see which club can raise the most money in each of the annual campaigns.
All the funds go into one pool and together, the clubs have collected on average $30,000 each year. “It’s a community service and it all goes to Geauga County residents who are in need,” Mr. Brockway said.
Traci Richardson, manager of the aging and disabilities resources center at United Way said the Rotary clubs have been adding dates to their volunteer ringing commitments.
“We have collaborated for a couple of years in this effort,” she said. United Way handles the funds for the Salvation Army. Funds are used in a variety of ways including helping to buy gas for the car to get to work or make a payment on back rent or utilities when a shut-off notice is received, she said.
If people have needs, they can call United Way, she said. “We can help them.” The number to call is 440-285-2261