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Salvation Army of Steubenville accepting applications for paid bell ringers, but volunteers, too

NOW HIRING — Capts. Angie and Mike Smith of the Salvation Army of Steubenville are accepting applications for about 14-20 paid bell ringers for this year’s Christmas red kettle campaign that starts Tuesday. -- Janice Kiaski

STEUBENVILLE — It’s a very different holiday year ahead for the Salvation Army of Steubenville, which is looking for the first time to hire bell ringers for its annual red kettle campaign that kicks off Tuesday.

With a volunteer base drying up and COVID-19 concerns to boot, Capts. Mike and Angie Smith, corps commanding officers of the Salvation Army of Steubenville, are accepting applications to employ 14-20 people who will earn minimum wage and can work up to 40 hours a week through Christmas Eve.

Unless … enough volunteers turn up and negate the need.

“That would be phenomenal,” Angie said Tuesday as she and her husband discussed a variety of holiday events approaching. The couple came on board Aug. 9 to serve at the downtown post at 332 N. Fourth St., after a Salvation Army career that has included Toledo, Medina and Sandusky.

“That would be phenomenal,” Angie said, “because we understand that people’s time is just so valuable, especially in this hectic world that we live in, and then throwing COVID on top has given us even more unexpected financial hardship in the Salvation Army, so to volunteer would be a great Christmas gift for us.”

But the Salvation Army must be prepared for a different scenario, looking to hire bell ringers while hoping for volunteers as well.

“I would love to be able to run a campaign strictly on volunteers, but we don’t get enough volunteers at any community that I’ve been to, to strictly run volunteer kettles, so we have to hire bell ringers,” Mike explained, figuring at least 14 to 20 people need hired.

“They get paid minimum wage. It’s only $8.70 an hour,” he continued, noting any volunteers signed up will be used first with gaps filled in by paid bell ringers.

“I don’t necessarily like doing paid bell ringers, but it is necessary for us to be able to raise the funds that we need to run all year long, and it helps them by giving them a little bit of income,” he said. “It’s only a seasonal position, but it does help them also, and it’s not like they’re making that much.”

Background checks will be run on the applicants.

“This year we’re doing background checks on all our paid bell ringers and actually our volunteer bellringers, unless you’re a group and you’re only ringing once,” he said.

Come Tuesday, bell ringers will be staged with the iconic red kettles at two locations — Rural King and J.C. Penney. Big Lots in Wintersville is added as a location starting Nov. 16 with the Wintersville and Steubenville Kroger locations as collection sites, effective Nov. 27, the day after Thanksgiving.

“Wal-Mart is actually giving us a full week early,” he said with collections starting there Nov. 21.

The schedule at all locations is from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday through Dec. 24. No collections are done on Sundays.

“We’ve tried making it easier this year,” he said of the application process. “We do have online signups for volunteers,” he noted, adding that groups that have rung the bells in the past have been notified, and some already have signed up.

“We’re thankful for that,” he said.

Volunteer help on many fronts has become a concern for organizations, and the Salvation Army locally and elsewhere is not immune, according to the Smiths. The reasons vary and include the pandemic situation.

“I’ve even had a group that normally takes a whole day, but said our group is getting a little bit up in age, and some of our members aren’t feeling comfortable with the COVID situation so they’ll promise to do half the day,” Mike said of a situation where the Salvation Army needs to be prepared to do what it needs to in order to raise funds.

Not having bell ringers — paid or volunteer — means revenue not generated — a Catch 22 situation, the Smiths agreed.

“And honestly, we track the income that comes in and we pretty much know what a kettle can do every day,” he said. “We can look at past experience and see what the average is and if the bellringer doesn’t make enough money, then I might try them at a different location, and if they don’t do that, then I just have to let them go because we cannot lose money for the Salvation Army.”

Bell ringer qualifications include being friendly, kind and reliable — “someone with a good appearance. They have to be polite with the customers going in and out of the store, someone that likes to talk and greet people,” Mike explained.

Money to pay bell ringers comes out of the Salvation Army’s general operating budget.

“Each year, every Salvation Army will budget so much income that they have to hire any seasonal employees to do this,” he said.

The campaign has a goal to raise $55,000 between Tuesday and Christmas Eve. The money goes to fund year-round programs with a main aim toward Christmas assistance for the community.

“We are thankful for the support that we have seen in the community so far, and I know that we’ll be able to have a good Christmas, to help the people and raise the funds,” Mike said.

For information, call the Salvation Army at (740) 282-5121.

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