Red Kettle

Jason Robbins, left, and Eric Herder ring the bell outside of Walmart Saturday afternoon in Bryan. They are two of the volunteers from the Williams County Board of Developmental Disabilities, and are just some of the volunteers collecting money for Williams County through the annual donation drive. LUCAS BECHTOL/Staff

For more than a century, the Salvation Army has helped ring in the Christmas season for people across the world.

According to the Salvation Army website, the red kettle tradition started in 1891, when Capt. Joseph McFee resolved to provide a free Christmas dinner for the destitute and poverty-stricken people of San Francisco. Drawing upon his time as a sailor, he remembered an iron kettle set up in Liverpool, England, where people would toss in a coin to help the poor.

He took that idea to the Oakland Ferry Landing and started a yearly tradition across the world with the iconic red kettle pots.

The tradition is alive and well in Williams County, with volunteers setting up the iconic red kettle pots and ringing a bell outside of Walmart, 1215 S. Main St., every Friday and Saturday until Dec. 21.

It is all done under the guidance of Bryanite Amber Simmons, who has volunteered for the kettle donations for years and took over as the kettle coordinator last year.

She was able to turn around the productivity of the donation drive, going from collecting around $3,500 in previous years to around $10,000 last year.

“I’ve thought about (a goal) a little bit,” she said. “I only do Fridays and Saturdays starting with Black Friday until right before Christmas, so that’s really only eight days of collecting. So, I think $10,000 was really an amazing collection amount, so why not say do $12,000 this year?”

Of course, Simmons wants to see an increase, but she definitely doesn’t want to see a decrease, so she wants to see at least $10,000 collected this year.

All money raised from the donations will stay in Williams County.

“It’s filtered through NOCAC (Northwest Ohio Community Action Commission),” Simmons, who is an employee with NOCAC, said. “NOCAC actually is the entity that will receive these funds and then filter them out to Williams County residents. It stays right in Williams County and it goes to lower-income families that need help with a plethora of things.”

This includes assistance with paying for rent, utilities, prescriptions, eye glasses and more.

The organization just tries to help people “in a pickle, in a jam” who need a little help, Simmons said.

Several volunteers have come forward, already, with one big group being the Williams County Board of Developmental Disabilities, which is currently set to have three full days of ringing.

“I’m super gracious for them,” Simmons said. “Those ringers are adults with some kind of developmental disability. That’s an amazing thing for me because there is not enough social interactions for those adults with developmental disabilities in our community. We need more opportunities for them to socialize in our community.”

Joan Miller, community inclusion specialist for the Board of DD, said she has nearly 50 volunteers signed up to man the kettles and ring the bells over three Saturdays this month.

“I’m really fortunate to be able to get them to help out,” she said. “I only have them down for an hour shift each. They’re pretty busy.”

Ringing the bells gets them out in the community and gives them something to look forward to and enjoy, Miller said.

It also doesn’t take a lot of time, but has a lot of benefits.

“It is something they feel like they’re giving back to the community,” Miller said. “It’s a feel-good type of thing. And they know a lot of people out here and get them to donate. So, it’s all a good thing.”

This is the third year she has worked to help staff the kettle bells and the number of volunteers keeps growing.

Miller was out with two people ringing the bells on Saturday, Jason Robbins and Eric Herder. It was the first time either of them had volunteered.

“I wanted to help out,” Robbins said, adding it was fun and he got to see a lot of people.

Herder also wanted to help people out.

“I thought it would be something new to do, help out,” he said.

Even though the Board of DD has committed to three days of bell ringing, Simmons said she still has plenty of spots left for anyone interested in volunteering.

“I just ask volunteers to do one hour, it’s cold, right? We don’t want anyone being outside too terribly long,” she said. “I just ask for either community members or businesses or organizations to sponsor just an hour.”

The ringing starts as early as 8-9 a.m. with the last shift being 7-8 p.m.

There are two pots set up at either entrance to Walmart, allowing two groups to volunteer at once.

Those interested in volunteering can call Amber at 419-212-2371.

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