Thursday, December 23, 2010

Freezing My Tush for The Salvation Army

An hour after returning home from my four-hour bell-ringing experience for The Salvation Army, I began to regain feeling in my toes. Despite the warmth, I was still seething with how my experience ended. And to be fair, I'm still not in a great mood.

My afternoon went about as best as can be expected. The first hour went quickly. At that point, I plugged in my iPod. Otis Redding on a frigid evening was a nice start, and my soundtrack shuffled along.

By hour two, I had made two quick stops inside the Kroger doors to warm up. The shuffle on my pod went to classic rock. By the time "Freebird" came on, I was swinging my bell like I was trying to fly away one-handed. I forgot how long that solo lasts.

Hour three was the worst. It dragged on and on. When five-thirty came along, my ghetto "old skool" hip-hop mix thumped through the headphones. Some Juvenile and Outkast had me, no joke, two-steppin' like Julia Stiles in that crappy movie, "Save the Last Dance." If anything, this kept me warm and made many people stare and laugh. That's cool though. My personal philosophy is that it's OK to make a jackass of myself on a daily basis. Score one for me.

Throughout all of this, kind strangers slipped their dollars and change into to the slot of the red kettle.

When I only had fifteen minutes for my shift to end, I was relieved and panicky. What if they don't show? What would I do with this kettle? Five minutes to six, and my relief came. As the paid worker approached, he kindly said, "I came a little early. I thought you might be cold, this being your first time."

He then told me he could take over and directed me to the blue van in the parking lot where the woman who changes the kettles was sitting. As I approached her door, I could tell that she was ticked.

"Hi, um, my relief guy came, so..."

"What are you doing?" she asked. "You still have five minutes on your shift! That's your bucket up there, not his. You go up there and tell him I will be there in five minutes."

Astonished, I turned away and started walking back. I should state that with my chubby cheeks and padded-up getup, I look pretty darn young. Regardless, I was put off by this attitude. The woman started walking behind me, and when she approached, she chewed out the guy for being EARLY!

She went back to get the van and switched the kettles.

At this point, I'd had it. I waited until we were near the van and away from the employee.

"Hi, what's your name," I asked. After her response, "Well, my name is Valerie West, and I work at The Oakland Press, and I write about volunteering."

Sidebar — I have never used this line before. It felt odd and powerful at the same time. I kept thinking, of that line, "With great power comes great responsibility" from "Spider Man."

"I don't want to get anyone in trouble, but I've been volunteering for quite a while, and I have never been spoken to so rudely or scolded like that."

Her face fell, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to scold you. But I don't like him telling me how to do my job."

"I don't think he was telling you how to do your job. I think he was doing his job and showed up early. I've been out here for four hours. I'm cold. And I'm a volunteer. I don't get paid to do this! And that man was nice enough to come and help out.

She apologized again.

I didn't accept it. When I'm angry, I can be steely. I was not in the mood for forgiveness. I wish that I could be the kind of person who turns the other cheek and doesn't have to have the last word. Perhaps if she had given me some sob story of her life, and why she was so cranky, I could have. But I didn't. Colder than the temperature outside, I repeated, "It's cold. It's been four hours. Have a nice night."

I want to give the benefit of the doubt, and say that this type of behavior is not typical. I would, except that after my last post, another volunteer complained about her experience. I should note that this woman is pretty active in her community.

This was her Facebook post, "I had hands down the WORST experience ever as a bell ringer (if I can even call myself that since I was put through so many... loops of bs) last year. Long story short, I followed instructions, asked questions before to confirm, showed up then, an hour into my time, with no kettle, was told it was all my fault."

What can I say, nine months into this project and right before Christmas, I have a sour taste in my mouth.

I certainly would not want this woman fired for what happened. Instead, I'd like her to enjoy a nice eight-hour stint ringing that bell outside of a Kroger. At the very least, I would hope that she has more respect for the people who take time out of their lives to volunteer for others.

And to all of those wonderful donors who sent me words of encouragement while throwing some coin into the red kettle — thank you.


  1. Val, good post! I am so happy to know you and proud that you have taken the time to volunteer over these past months. You have evoked the Spirit of Christmas all year long!

  2. It is an awful shame for this to happen just before Christmas — it's a shame for the people helped by the Salvation Army, which no doubt has already seen its donations drop due to this reputation that, based on comments you've been receiving all week, has been building with time. And it's a shame that after a whole year of volunteering, now — so close to Christmas — is when an experience has left a sour taste in your mouth.

    I'm not sure I'll ever look at a red kettle the same again. Thanks for sharing this.