Ringing for Change: Bellringers have big impact on Kitsap lives
By ERIN JENNINGS
North Kitsap Herald Kitsap Week
December 10, 2010 · 2:43 PM
Kirk Payne hears bells ringing in his sleep. It’s an occupational hazard from ringing the Salvation Army bell seven hours a day, six days a week. The sound sticks in his mind.
“I hear bells at 3 in the morning,” Payne said.
He’s rung a bell for Salvation Army since 2002, the last four years exclusively outside Ralph’s Red Apple Market on Kitsap Way in Bremerton. They ask him to come back every year, he says; they don’t want anyone else.
It’s easy to see why. Payne greets customers with a hearty “Merry Christmas!” and a smile that could crack Ebenezer Scrooge.
His positive attitude is infectious.
“Kirk is a kind-hearted man who loves what he does,” said Louanne Tate, the store’s deli manger. “He’s got a passion for ringing a bell.”
Not a passive ringer, Payne returns carts to the store and holds open customers’ car doors – all the while, engaging customers to the point where they no longer are customers, but friends.
As he worked on a recent Friday, Annemarie Knowles pulled into the parking lot.
Payne’s face lit up.
“I brought you something,” Knowles said. “It’s banana bread with cranberries and pecans.”
“You are going to spoil me,” Payne exclaimed.
That is what it’s like all day long. Friends stop by to bring him a treat. Buy him a cup of coffee. Chat for a bit.
“See that gentleman?” Payne asked, pointing to a man leaving the store. “When I first started ringing here, he and his wife would come together. But his wife passed away about three months ago and he’s going through a difficult time. He’ll stop and stand with me and I’ll comfort him.”
Payne understands what it’s like to need support and comfort. In 1997, he moved to Washington from Chicago. He lived on the street and was an alcoholic.
He was introduced to the Salvation Army, where it helped him through two recovery programs. He credits the Salvation Army for keeping him sober.
“I look at the people we serve down at the Salvation Army and I think to myself, ‘That could be me again one day,’” Payne said. “That keeps from going back out and drinking again.”
The Kitsap County Salvation Army provides basic needs for people when times are difficult. Last year, their breakfast and lunch program served 32,000 meals. They also help those struggling to pay their rent and utility bills, and even help with prescription costs.
It costs between $30,00-$40,000 a month for the Salvation Army to perform all their services Major Marcia Baker said. The bell ringing campaign is their biggest fundraiser and brings in one third of their yearly operating budget.
The downturn of the economy has caused more people to need the services of the Salvation Army.
“Our numbers are definitely up,” Baker said. “What concerns me is the desperation I hear in people’s voices.”
With federal and state budget cuts looming, she doesn’t see any relief coming in the near future. She is concerned with how people are going to live. That is the reason the kettle money is so important.
“This is the bulk of our cash,” Baker said.
Enter bell ringers like Payne. More than 400 people applied for the 51 bell ringing positions in Kitsap County.
The 51 chosen were given a 15-page orientation about how to perform their duties.
The first rule is to greet people and be friendly. Payne has that rule covered.
Glyn Correll, owner of Ralph’s Red Apple Market, claims to have the number one Salvation Army bell ringer in the world working outside his doors. Correll said since the store is a smaller operation, it’s impressive how many donations Payne collects. According to Payne, customers contribute an average of $30 an hour to his kettle.
Kitsap has some ground to cover before the final bell rings on Dec. 24. The winter storm last month caused more than power outages and frozen pipes. Salvation Army Major Jim Baker estimates $20,000 worth of donations were lost due to the lack of available customers during the storm.
Payne acknowledged that times are tough, and not everyone can donate. Whether they give or not, he makes a point to speak to each customer who walks through the door. Bell ringing, he said, puts life in perspective.
Major Jim Baker admires how Payne has turned his life around.
“He’s such a giver. He loves helping people, giving to people and doing what he does,” Baker said. “It’s a great change from his younger life.”Contact North Kitsap Herald Kitsap Week Erin Jennings at email@example.com or (360) 779-4464.