Perhaps no one symbol of the generous spirit of the season is more iconic than the bell ringers of the Salvation Army’s “Red Kettle” brigades. These hardy fundraisers brave winter’s chill outside grocery stores and shops, as a reminder to holiday shoppers that charity may begin at home, but it doesn’t end there.
In Levittown, the Key Club of Gerald R. Claps Career and Technical Center is taking the lead in supplying Red Kettle volunteers. Standing outside the King Kullen on Hempstead Turnpike on a very frosty Saturday, the students sang and cavorted in holiday get-ups.
“Levittown is not affluent, but when there is a need, these people come out,” said Claps Key Club adviser Lillian Creedon. “The support from Levittown is always amazing.”
Shoppers at the Levittown King Kullen were full of their usual generosity, but the unpredictable, but mild weather was accommodating, likely the reason for the increased foot traffic. Creedon said in years past the students were out there in the rain and snow and temperatures in the 30s.
“We’re a little different,” said Creedon. “Working with high school students, I wanted to distract them from the cold, so I have them all dress up and we sing holiday songs. It draws a lot of people in.”
This year is many of the G. C. Tech Key Club students’ first year of community service with the organization, involved on average for their junior and senior years at the tech school in Levittown.
“The people in Levittown are really generous,” said Casey McRae, a junior at Claps. “It’s important for us to serve, and for people to see us out here trying to make a difference while representing G.C. Tech and the Key Club.”
The support of lively, engaged volunteers is critical to the success of the Red Kettle drive, and especially this year, with the Christmas season shortened by a late Thanksgiving holiday compounding larger economic pressures.
Music and youth, experienced volunteers know, boost donations.
“When you add music to a Kettle, the giving is enhanced exponentially,” explains Major Philip Wittenberg of the Salvation Army’s Hempstead Citadel Corps. “And if there are small children, it really warms people’s hearts.”
The wintry chill isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either, when you’re trying to raise money.
“People have more sympathy when you’re standing in the cold,” says Bill Moseley, a Salvation Army advisory board member who has been working the Red Kettle—often with his guitar, because it brings in “two to three times the donations”—for 25 years. On
Saturday, Dec. 14 he was busking for the needy at Sunrise Mall in Massapequa.
With the exception of last year, the Claps Key Club has supported the Salvation Army’s holiday fundraising drive in Levittown for more than a decade. But it’s not their only holiday effort to help the needy. The school district participates in an adopt-a-family giving program, with student groups banding together to buy gifts and supplies for families that social workers have identified as being especially needy.
“Some students said they wanted to [adopt a family] on their own,” Creedon says. “That’s unusual.” But, she said, students could see the privation behind the anonymous requests. One family had a 9-month-old child, and their wish list included food for the baby.
“That’s heart-wrenching,” Creedon says. “It’s nice to see these kids, how they look at the list, and they really care for those in need.” One student recruited her mother’s office to sponsor a family; another persuaded her mom to supply diapers.
Although schools and civic organizations take the lead in providing bell-ringers, the organization easily accommodates solo volunteers as well.
“We get individuals that call and say ‘I want to teach my kids about service. Can we ring the bell for three hours at Roosevelt Field?’ and we always say ‘yes’,” explains Major Philip Wittenberg of the Salvation Army’s Hempstead Citadel Corps. “With lots of people it has almost become a tradition.”
“We do see quite a bit of volunteers from the North Shore,” Wittenberg adds.
— Additional reporting by Christy Hinko