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Ring those bells - Salvation Army kettles signal season of giving

"When Salvation Army Captain Joseph McFee set up the the first donation kettle at the foot of San Francisco's Market Street in 1891, he could not have imagined that he was starting a tradition that would last for more than a century. He just wanted to put a Christmas dinner on the table for the poor people of the area.But within four years, 30 Army Corps in the West had adopted the idea. Within two more years, it had spread to the east to New York and Boston. Today, Salvation Army kettles nationwide attract more than $70 million in coins and bills each holiday season. And for the Whidbey Island people who stand next to each local kettle ringing bells, the spirit of the McFee's original purpose remains the same.It's for a good cause, said Rene Warn as she stood on her small square of carpet outside a local store Tuesday afternoon. Warn said she has been bell ringing for several years and expects to spend at least four hours at her post each day this week.Money collected locally goes mainly to emergency services and to help the disadvantaged. In addition, the bell ringers themselves earn money for their time. Many turn their payment over to their own favorite programs or organizations.I donate the money I get to Special Olympics, said Warn.Down the road, Oak Harbor High School student Charlotte Milling was also putting in a four-hour stint ringing a bell.This is my third year of doing this. I really enjoy it, she said. I get to be around a bunch of people and do something for someone else other than myself.Milling joined the bell ringers through the high school's Torch Club and her youth group. In all, she plans to spend about 24 hours ringing the Salvation Army bell this year.The Whidbey Shrine Club organizes local bell ringers for the Salvation Army each year. Last year the group raised over $31,600.As passersby dropped donations in their respective kettles, both Milling and Warn gave each a friendly smile, a genuine thank you and a warm Merry Christmas. Warmth of heart is sometimes easier to come by than warmth of the rest of body when you have to stand out in the wind and cold for four hours at a time, said Warn. She comes prepared, with three layers on top, two pairs of pants, thick socks, boots and gloves. Milling also bundled up and held tightly to a big cup of hot chocolate. Milling admits that the sound of the bell often goes on in her head for about a half hour after she completes each shift. Just the same, she said she's happy to do it.It's the holiday's, she said. "

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