Lessons at Super Wal-Mart Ringing the Christmas Bell

Tolling bells are a big part of this season’s ambience. From the
big brass steeple bells calling us to worship to the little silver
bells encouraging us to give.
Tolling bells are a big part of this season’s ambience. From the big brass steeple bells calling us to worship to the little silver bells encouraging us to give.

Last Saturday, two weeks before Christmas, I had a chance to hold the handle of one such bell in behalf of the Salvation Army. It was a wonderful experience – one I plan to repeat often in the coming years.

(Before I tell you about the event, I simply must comment on the new Wal-Mart where I stood ringing: Wow – we built it and you have come! Not just to see but to shop till you drop. I saw empty cart after empty cart go in to the store, and filled to overflowing carts come out! I saw serious minded folks walk in unfolding their scripted lists and come out eyeing foot long receipts – checking it twice to make sure that they hadn’t been charged twice for being so nice!)

In the beginning, before I realized how fast my bell ringing shift would go, I decided to pass the time “counting stuff.”

First, I counted how many folks exited the store versus how many contributed to the “Sharing is Caring” bucket. In my half hour of truly scientific data collection (cough, cough), 60 people passed by and 7 stopped to donate. If I’d have done my counting between noon and one, I’m certain those figures would have been higher. It seemed like more folks gave later in the day and the donations were usually paper instead of coin.

Next I counted who gave more, men or women. Even-steven there! Proving once again that generosity wears no gender.

Then, I starting noting the ages of givers. All ages gave, but seniors stopped to rummage in their wallets the most. I don’t know if it’s because they’re more sensitive to poverty or just not in as much of a hurry.

I did notice quite a few parents give their children money to donate. It was nice to see the lessons on giving override the “asking for oneself expeditions” to Santa taking place in aisle seven.

I also saw lots of young people give on their own. Yes, it happened often enough to notice. And, yes, usually their parents passed me by without a glance while the kids stopped to share what they had.

One such young man just made my day! I saw him trailing after an entourage of laughing women as they made their way across the parking lot. He was about nine. Had a dark brown crew cut and wore baggy jeans with a neatly tucked in shirt.

He heard the bell ringing, looked at the sign, looked at me and stopped dead in his tracks. Immediately, his hands went into his deep pockets and he began searching for a gift. “Wait, mom, wait,” he called, “I have a penny in my pocket and I want to give it….” The group waited impatiently while he fished wildly for the coin, finally found it and dropped it in the bucket.

I saw him again as the group exited about a half hour later. By this time, he’d somehow wrangled a dollar bill from one of the women and was holding it as he walked out of the store. He passed the gum, candy and stuffed animal machines and strode purposefully to the red bucket. There, he folded his gift and carefully inserted it into the slot. His small hands stayed there an extra second and he appeared lost in thought. The act seemed to hold special significance for him and I couldn’t help but wonder why.

When he finally looked at me, I said, “Thank you sir, that was very kind of you to share.” He almost smiled before running to catch up with his mom.

How can you witness a child give like that and not be changed?

Does a three ounce bell get heavy after swinging it for four hours? Not at all. Does the sound drive you mad? No, in fact, it’s soft peal gets sweeter with each gift that’s given.

I kept thinking, who knows … some day someone I love might be counting on the amount in that pot to put a ham on their Christmas table or a doll under their tree. After all, except for the grace of God, there go we all.

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