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Salvation Army raises money for Whidbey

They’ve become such a fixture during the Christmas season, that it would be easy to just overlook them.

But theirs is a very important job, and one that many people might not understand, said one Oak Harbor volunteer.

Salvation Army bell ringers — folks seen standing near store entrances and exits with hanging kettles to gather donations of spare change — are a volunteer force that annually raises tens of thousands of dollars here in Oak Harbor for programs in Oak Harbor.

“Every penny that comes into the bucket goes to the Salvation Army. And even more than that comes back into the community,” said Digger O’Dell, of Oak Harbor. O’Dell is a member of the Shriners Club as well as the person in charge of the Salvation Army’s bell ringers in Oak Harbor.

Organizing the “watch bill,” as the schedule outlining the times and places each volunteer will ring bells is called, has been an annual task for O’Dell for the past six years.

But while O’Dell spends all his time volunteering with various organizations — his full-time “job” since retiring from the Navy 25 years ago — he is quick to point out that the bell ringers are the ones that deserve credit and recognition.

Volunteer bell ringers come from all walks of life. They do it so that they can raise money for charitable organizations, O’Dell said. Each bell ringer is allowed to designate to what charity the money they collect on their watch goes.

Oak Harbor charitable organizations that receive Salvation Army support include Help House and Citizens Against Domestic and Sexual Abuse, O’Dell said.

O’Dell produced pages and pages of the watch bill schedule, covering all the days the bell-ringers will be collecting donations. The campaign began the day after Thanksgiving and will continue until the day before Christmas, except on Sundays.

The groups and individuals volunteering as bell ringers include youngsters and teens, such as members of 4-H clubs, scouts, church youth groups and the Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps at Oak Harbor High School, as well as adults. Members of the Lions Club, Shriners, Masonic Lodges, Navy personnel and Navy Wives’ Club, Special Olympics and Whidbey Animal Improvement Foundation are all slated to bundle up and stand out in the cold to raise money for charity.

Bell ringers will be stationed six days per week in front of Kmart, Safeway, Market Place, Wal-Mart and the post office in Oak Harbor. A sixth location, Albertson’s, is new this year, O’Dell said, and it will be manned whenever possible.

Since O’Dell began organizing the fund drive, the annual amount raised has grown substantially. The first year, bell ringers gathered $6,600, and last year they raised $31,600 just from the five locations in Oak Harbor.

“It is just amazing,” O’Dell said of the community’s support.

Anyone wanting further information may contact O’Dell at 675-2823, or visit the Oak Harbor bell ringer website at www.redkettles.com.

You can reach News-Times reporter Christine Smith at csmith@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611

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