Desloge Chamber of Commerce investors were asked to volunteer as bell ringers for this year’s annual United Way of St. Francois County (UWSFC) Bell Ringing Campaign when Executive Director Clay Whitener spoke before the group at its luncheon held earlier this month.
According to the UWSFC website, each year, about 1,000 individuals, families, school groups, sports teams, church groups, businesses and civic group, volunteer to ring a bell to help raise funds that will be distributed to St. Francois County agencies to provide food, shelter, health, educational and social needs to those in need. The bell ringing campaign begins on Thanksgiving.
“We have a vast array of volunteers here in this room to ring the bell — and find friends and neighbors to ring the bell,” Whitener said. “This year we’re trying something different. We’re putting the Salvation Army and United Way of St. Francois County together. It’s all under one roof now. It’s all under United Way of St. Francois County.
“The monies are still going to be used all over St. Francois County. I wish I could tell you how many dollars are donated in Bonne Terre, and Desloge, and Leadwood and so on and so forth. I actually know that, but that’s not what the important thing is. The important thing is that we are all united in helping all these people that have a need.”
Whitener said that not every need is due to a wrong decision that someone has made — sometimes bad stuff just happens.
“I deal with those people all day,” he said. “When I get back to my office there will be 15 or 20 calls there wanting help for something. A lot of times they’re referred to our only homeless center in this county. [Shared Blessings Director Shelly Bass] takes care of that.”
Offering some background on the bell ringing, Whitener said, “The Salvation Army has a contract with Walmart across the country. When you go to a Walmart, you will see the little round kettles and the guys are out there ringing the bells. Sometimes they have to pay those people to ring those bells. We don’t. We operate from volunteers only.
“If you see somebody there, they’ve volunteered their time. If that kettle is sitting right around inside the door, we couldn’t find a volunteer for that hour. Here’s a little bit of statistical information — those bells, when they’re at the Walmart door in Farmington — the average amount of money they receive between the hours of 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. — is around $50-$75 per hour.
“So, every hour you see that kettle setting inside, it’s not earning that kind of money. People still throw money in there for some reason, but it’s not earning the amount of money that it earns when it’s setting outside those front doors. The week before Thanksgiving, the Salvation Army said you’re not supposed to ring at all, but I talked to them and they said, ‘Go ahead, we don’t care. You’re making money to give away.’”
According to Whitener, kettles sitting outside the two Walmart doors the week before Christmas will raise about $100 an hour.
“The only thing that came close to that was River Mart,” he said. “(Theresa Bauman’s) two River Mart stations. Last year we set up United Way bells here at the Desloge River Mart. Those things developed about $35 per hour sitting at the two River Mart stores.
“So, this year with the combined efforts of the Salvation Army of St. Louis and the United Way of St. Francois County — I’m assuming we’re going to take this over from now on provided we do well, and we get all the hours filled. We need your help manning all those hours. You’ll be able to log onto our website at www.unitedwayofsfc.org to sign up. While you’re in there, look at all the stuff we do and the agencies we fund. I think there’s 37 of them this year.
“Last year we collected $30,000 through the United Way kettles. We took a third of that and sent it to St. Louis. The cool thing is we sent them a check for $9,862 — their third of the money collected — and they sent us back a check for about $14,000.”
“This year we’re trying something different. We’re putting the Salvation Army and United Way of St. Francois County together.” — Clay Whitener, United Way of SFC
Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or firstname.lastname@example.org