For whom the bell tolls

Sam Green/Cortez Journal Greg Kemp has been ringing a bell for the Salvation Army for the past 10 years and plans to keep on volunteering.

By Michael Maresh

Journal Staff Writer

While most residents are shopping in stores for the holidays, a sometimes-shivering Greg Kemp dons his Santa Claus hat and parks himself outside of City Market for two hours to ring bells for the Salvation Army.

For the past 10 years, Kemp has volunteered his time to solicit funds for the less fortunate.

While most residents look forward to shopping this time of the year, Kemp is different.

Kemp, who ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Montezuma County Commission earlier this year, said he looks forward to the shopping season but he’s not into shopping. He looks forward to manning his post for the Salvation Army, and said he will continue doing this for as long as he is able.

A decade ago, when Kemp first volunteered, he chose the 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday shift at City Market. That coincided with the time he was getting off work and he has kept that same schedule ever since.

Kemp, 71, first became a bell ringer when Slaven’s Hardware management 10 years ago offered their employees their hourly wages for those willing to be a bell ringer.

“I chose to do it on my own because I felt if I was getting paid I was not volunteering,” he said. “It is a very enjoyable experience.”

Kemp is one of the 252 Salvation Army volunteers who will take on numerous shifts when there is a need. A number of volunteers return every year.

“They have a list of people who volunteered in the past, and we are the first ones called,” Kemp said.

Salvation Army bell ringers will be at Walmart, Walgreens and City Market Friday through Sunday through the holidays, as the charity organization does not want to bombard residents with bell ringers everywhere they go for a month, said bell ringer supervisor Mel Heath.

What hooked Kemp on this volunteering activity was all of the people he was able to meet as they entered and exited the store.

“It’s the people in general,” he said. But he also knows that he’s helping a good cause.

“I know that this money is all being used locally with no administration cost involved.”

What Kemp enjoys the most is seeing little kids slipping coins into the traditional red kettle, and he in return asks them if they want to ring the bell.

Kemp said he has no idea how much money is collected at the two City Market posts or the post he mans.

Heath estimates that about $25,000 is raised through this fundraiser,

Before moving to Montezuma County in 2001, Kemp never had the opportunity to be a bell ringer, and added in bigger cities, bell ringers are usually paid due to the lack of volunteers or people willing to give their free time even for a worthy cause.

Every cent received, he said, goes toward a worthy program, whether that be used for medical or dental assistance, food and places for the homeless and people needing a place to stay.

And Kemp, who resides in Mancos, said some people would be surprised at who will stop to put money into the kettle.

“You name it. Every type of person you can imagine are included in the contributions,” he said.

Kemp said he thinks close to 40 percent of those walking by his post will stop to put money into the kettle.

Heath, on the other hand, thinks the overall percentage of people donating is much lower.

“I think the bell is kind of a trigger. I really do,” Kemp said, and added the classic Christmas song “Silver Bells” actually refers to the Salvation Army silver bells.

But there is a downside to being a bell ringer volunteer he admitted.

“It gets very cold, but at least at City Market you sort of have a roof over your head,” he said.

He added the frigid temperatures feel worse because bell ringers are not moving much and tend to stay close to the doorways to greet people.

“With me it’s my hands,” he said, referring to what gets the coldest.

“After the sun goes down, it gets real cold,” Kemp added.

Knowing how cold it gets, Heath makes the rounds and gives every bell ringer a break if they need one.

Kemp said he and the rest of the volunteers donate their time for each holiday season because they consider it more of a calling than anything else while helping them remain humble.

“It helps us remember what we have to be thankful for,” he said, “You know there are people out there who are a lot worse off than you are and it is a way to remember what you do have.”

He added that he considers this volunteering to be a big part of his life for the month he does this.

“It’s just one of those things that are part of the holidays for me,” Kemp said. “It’s what makes Christmas for me. The people are the fun part.”

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