STARKVILLE — My father always had a soft spot and an open wallet for the Salvation Army. His affection for that ministry was intertwined with his memories of World War II and the hardships of the Normandy invasion.
Every Christmas season, when the kettles were brought out and the bells were ringing, my dad would remind me and my two sisters that the first hot coffee and donuts he and his comrades had after jumping into the waves from a Higgins boat and eventually fighting their way up the draws at Omaha Beach to high ground. The donuts came from the Salvation Army.
My father was reliably tight with a dollar, but he always put folding money in the kettles. I never saw him walk past one without contributing. There was always such joy on his face when he tucked the cash into the little slot on top of the kettle.
Dad’s been dead for 30 years now. I keep the Bronze Star he was awarded during the Normandy Invasion in a little box along with the patches from his uniform and a hardback New Testament that he carried in his shirt pocket while he was overseas.
The appreciation I have for the Salvation Army stems not from the same place that my father’s loyalty to the organization came, but from watching how the group works to alleviate the modern scourges of homelessness, poverty, hunger and the suffering of impoverished children and the elderly.
Consider the Army’s mission statement: “The Salvation Army, an international movement, is an evangelical part of the universal Christian Church. Its message is based on the Bible. Its ministry is motivated by the love of God. Its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.”
Through the Starkville Rotary Club, I get a chance each year to take a shift ringing the bell at a Salvation Army kettle — usually at the local Walmart. I usually forego the standard issue small bell the Army provides and use a regulation size Mississippi State cowbell. If you missed the kettle, try www.salvationarmyusa.org.
The cowbell is loud and attracts Bulldogs in the shadow of the university. This year, I had one pretty young woman in a powder-blue longsleeve shirt with the familiar Ole Miss script approach. She said: “I’ll double my donation if you’ll stop ringing that cowbell!” She did. I did, too, but only for a moment.
I have been a Salvation Army bell-ringer for several years. The experience always makes the holiday season brighter for me and cuts through the rank commercialization of the holiday in a way that few things can.
As noted by other bell ringers in my Rotary Club, there is no rhyme or reason to who approaches the kettle. Those who by appearances seem to be of limited means routinely dig deep and give. Race, gender, age, socioeconomic condition ... none of those attributes have anything to do with the spirit of giving.
Mississippians routinely rank among the most generous people in the nation. If you doubt that, take a shift ringing at a Salvation Army kettle. If you have never understood the true lesson of the Biblical story of the widow’s mite, take a shift ringing at the kettle.
There are many worthy charities during the holiday season and all through the year. The Salvation Army is but one, and I admire and applaud those who support and uplift any group whose mission is to render help, healing and love to those who need it most.
The work of the Salvation Army reminds me of the creed attributed to Methodist theologian John Wesley: “Do all the good that you can, by all the means that you can, in all the ways that you can, in all the places that you can, at all the times that you can, to all the people you can, for as long as ever you can.”
May you and yours find the spirit of giving and sharing during the Christmas season and continue to feel the warmth of it all year long. Merry Christmas!
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.