By Jeff Baird, Sunrise Reiki Colorado

The article below was written last year to coincide with the Salvation Army’s campaign to help those in need. We will ring the bell again this year, as it has become a holiday tradition. As our sweet Sandy continues her fight against cancer, I keep telling her she needs to help me ring the bell again this year. She has brought joy to so many. If I didn’t bring her with me this year, many, many people would ask me where she was. I am confident she will join me again.

Since I was a little boy, I have wanted to ring the bell for The Salvation Army. When I was 5 or 6 years old, I didn’t really understand why the bell ringers were out in front of JC Penney, Woolworth or other stores. But I knew when the bell ringers were there, the holidays were near. For me, that meant Santa would be coming soon, and I had a chance at getting whatever was at the top of my list that year. The bell ringers usually wore a Santa hat, and I just assumed they were his helpers. Little did I know how much they helped.

When I got older, I always put whatever loose change I had in the red kettle. If I had just been paid, and was feeling kind of flush, I might even put in a dollar or two. The bell ringer seemed so appreciative of whatever I donated, and it made me feel good. It was a win-win.

When we moved to Evergreen, one of the things at the very top of my list was to become involved with our new community that I had fallen in love with. Living in the beautiful mountains of Colorado was a dream come true for me, and I wanted to give back. It was more than just an idea I had. It was an agreement that I made with myself and promised to deliver on.

That first year as the holidays approached, I contacted The Salvation Army and found out how easy it was to volunteer to ring the bell. I couldn’t believe how much enjoyment I got from ringing the bell for a couple of hours. I wanted others to experience this feeling of holiday joy. As a result, I brought my granddaughters along with me when their schedules permitted. I even brought Sandy, one of our dogs along with me. She wore her Christmas collar and loved greeting people, especially kids, as they walked into the store where I was ringing the bell.

Fast forward a couple of years and we continue to ring the bell whenever we can, and Sandy has become kind of a rock star at the local grocery store. She is like a magnet – drawing people closer to us, as they do their part by putting whatever loose change they may have in the red kettle. Recently, the first man that came up to us at the beginning of our shift put a $50 bill into the kettle. I wanted to hug him. He hugged Sandy and talked about the dog he loved so much and had lost this past year. We had a lengthy conversation about Labradoodles, and shared a laugh when we agreed that when we were younger a Labradoodle was simply called a “mutt” or a Poodle mix. He said that when he was ready for a new dog, he was thinking of getting a mutt. He explained that all dogs are great, but a mixed breed is the best. He wasn’t ready yet, but hoped one day that he would go down that road again. All of us dog owners know how sad it is to lose a four – legged friend. They bring so much happiness to our lives and leave such a void when they pass on.

Last night I had a long talk with a woman about the importance of rescuing dogs. She had owned many dogs over the years, and all of them were rescues. She showed me pictures of her Catahoula Cur, the state dog for Louisiana. She also owns horses and Reiki found its way into the conversation. I explained how much I love working on rescue horses. We had talked about a number of things. Then, the conversation turned to healing and then religion. I tried to explain to her that Reiki is not a religion. I couldn’t believe the depth of our conversation as I rang the bell. She was an amazing woman with many talents and was very curious about Reiki. I gave her my business card for Sunrise Reiki and wished her a good evening as she left. We probably talked for 20-30 minutes while she held onto her bags of groceries. You never know what might happen when you ring the bell for The Salvation Army.

Later that evening a woman put some dollars in the kettle as she fought back tears. She said, “It’s not going to be a very Merry Christmas for me this year. My husband and I are separating after 27 years of marriage.” I didn’t know what to say to her. So, I just thanked her for her donation and said, “God Bless You.” I wanted to give her a hug and tell her everything was going to be okay. But, it was not my part to say that, and it was a very brief encounter. Next thing I knew she was leaving the store and crying harder as she smiled at me and waved. Sandy looked at her and wondered what was wrong. This was the first time someone had come up to us as they cried. Sandy is a gentle soul who knows when others are hurting, and gets as close as she possibly can to take away any pain one might be feeling.

A woman who works at the grocery store lights up whenever she sees us. “Oh, you brought Sandy with you again tonight,” she says as she gets down on her knees and hugs Sandy while talking to her, and even whispering in her ear. Another woman who was leaving the store opened up a bag of her recently purchased “Busy Bones” and insisted on giving one to Sandy. “Busy Bones” are Sandy’s favorite treat. She was in as much amazement as I was as she played with and then devoured the tasty treat. At that moment, a lady walked in with a service dog to help her with her shopping. The service dog couldn’t help but smell and notice Sandy’s bone, but kept on walking, as disciplined and dignified as she could be.

I have noticed that when someone puts money in the kettle, I ring the bell a little faster and a little bit louder. It seems to send an energy through the store as others respond by coming up to us and dropping some of their hard-earned cash into the kettle. It had been a great night filled with many conversations with my new friends and neighbors. I even got to see some people I know, as we hugged and wished each other a Merry Christmas. I feel such warmth when I am ringing the bell regardless of the temperature.

I am always amazed at the number of small children with no shoes or socks on their feet on a December evening. Also, I never realized how many people wore their sleep wear when shopping. But, it’s true – many do. They usually look very comfortable too. Last night a man had his sleep wear on and a Star Wars Stormtrooper mask. He and his friends walked out of the store with bags of snacks. I immediately thought, “Well, marijuana is legal here.” May The Force be with you.

As my shift neared the end, my stomach growled and I wondered what I would take home with me to eat. At that moment, my thoughts shifted to the number of children and adults who would go to bed hungry tonight. We ring the bell for the hungry, for those in pain, for all who may not have a Christmas miracle this year. We ring the bell for those who have lost loved ones and will find themselves alone this year for the first time. We ring the bell for the families who have lost their homes, their pets and their desire to live. We ring the bell for all of our fellow brothers and sisters who need a helping hand. So many people tell me stories about when they were struggling and how The Salvation Army helped them out during those difficult times. They always put whatever they can into the kettle. It might be a few cents or maybe even a $50 bill. All of it counts.

We ring the bell for Love. We want everyone to have a little something to help them enjoy their holiday, regardless of their circumstances. The Salvation Army brings hope to people, and that’s the main reason I ring the bell. All of us need hope – especially at Christmas time. May you be blessed by the kindness of others and the possibilities of hope that each new day brings to all of us. When you see someone ringing the bell, please donate what you can. Every little bit helps and you might just bring some hope to someone who really needs it. Merry Christmas.

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