Do you like to people-watch? If so, volunteering your time for the Salvation Army, ringing the bell next to their donation kettle will tell you much.

The familiar ringing rhythm alerted those inside and outside the store why I was there. A holiday tradition. What I saw were people who were self-absorbed. What burden were they carrying? What stress was in their posture, their pace, and their scowl? Apparently, grocery shopping is not a joyous activity? I said hello to those who passed. One or two apologized for not donating, saying they had already done so. Some people emptied their wallets and pockets of change; others motioned that their pockets did not contain coins. Many took great efforts to avoid my gaze, ignore my salutation. Again, I wondered about their poverty or shame. Or both? For still others, I hoped their intentional plodding by was not filled with anger.

And then my grandsons arrived to help. Boys the ages of 2 and 3 were less interested in ringing the bell than proving they could carry the kettle with their strong muscles. And yes, the automatic doors were a fascination, as were the game/candy machines as they played in shirt sleeve while Grandma shivered in her long coat.

But, this isn’t about us. It is about the change in the customers. Few ignored us. Smiles enveloped faces. Repeatedly, people would stop or even turn around to come back to donate. Many offered their pennies, their handfuls of change or their dollar bills to John and Harvey, asking them to fill the kettle. People joyfully offered their money. They smiled. They talked. They paused. They acted like it was Christmas.


— Barbara Bunting, Newton