Salvation Army welcomes bell-ringing volunteers

Salvation Army volunteers-Lt. Melissa Xiong and Lt. Stacy Antonovich serve at the senior center Thanksgiving dinner. (Photo by Valerie Shelton)

The holiday season is officially in full swing. The festive twinkling red and green lights shine through every storefront window, the garland hangs from each Old Town light post and trees decorated with hundreds of bulbs are on display. Along with the spectacular sights of Christmas is a familiar sound—the sound of the bell ringing outside major shopping centers in Clovis.

While the ring-a-ling sound is evocative of the holiday season and its traditional sleigh bell and jingle bells, this particular bell is a reminder to those shopping for those perfect gifts that not every person has the merriest Christmas. However, dropping the tiniest bit of spare change from your pocket into the red bin can make a difference for those in need this holiday season.

As many know from seeing the bell ringers year after year, the change collected benefits the Salvation Army, which in turn provides meals to those who may otherwise go hungry. While special holiday boxed meals provided to local families for Christmas, the donations made actually help the Salvation Army provide food year round.

In Clovis alone, 200 to 300 families a week come to the Salvation Army for food assistance, according to Salvation Army Corps Lieutenant Stacy Antonovich. That is a lot of families in need for a city like Clovis, which many consider an affluent community.

“When I moved here a year and a half ago I was told that there wasn’t a huge need in Clovis, but there is,” Antonovich said. “These are just the families we serve out of the Clovis office who have an address in Clovis. Many of them are seniors so they bought their homes when there was not a big difference financially between Fresno and Clovis and many are on fixed incomes and costs have gone up for expenses, like utilities, in recent years.”

Assisting seniors and local families with food can make the difference, leaving families more to spend on bills rather than groceries. In addition to providing canned food, perishable items and bread and produce donated from local stores, the Salvation Army also partners with PG&E to help some of the neediest families with their utility costs. Few families qualify for the utilities program, Antonovich said, but many accept the food assistance.

The funds raised during the holiday season—typically from the day after Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve—cover about 10 percent of the costs the Clovis Salvation Army has in aiding local families throughout the year. That number could actually be closer to 20 percent, however, if the Salvation Army’s bell ringers were all volunteers, Antonovich said.

“Last year we brought in $35,000, but we need more volunteers because we ended up spending about half of that—$18,000—to pay part-time employees to ring the bell,” Antonovich said.

All you need to volunteer is two hours of time, although Antonovich said it is better for a company or family to take a whole day, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., at one of the bell ringing locations and split the shifts between employees or family members.

“We will take individual volunteers but the issue is if someone volunteers from noon to 2 p.m., we need to find others to cover the other shifts, the four hours in the afternoon and the two in the morning,” Antonovich said. “It is much easier for a business or family to take the whole day and figure out who is going to serve when. If someone can only give two hours and has no one to team up with, we will use them for that two hours certainly but it is harder to arrange things.”

Many churches and service groups like the Clovis Rotary are taking on days. The rotary is actually doing three whole days at all the Clovis locations.

Antonovich said there are currently seven locations in Clovis and high hopes to add an eighth location soon. The seven locations are the Walmart Market on Shaw and Fowler, the Vons on Fowler and Ashlan, the K-Mart of Shaw, the Walmart of Shaw and Peach, the Walmart on Herndon, the Vons on Herndon and Fowler and the Save Mart on Herndon and Fowler.

If anyone wishes to volunteer their time at any of these locations, they can contact Antonovich via e-mail at Stacy.Antonovich@usw.salvationarmy.org.

In addition to raising money for the Salvation Army food pantry at these locations, the Salvation Army also has angel trees at four locations. These Christmas trees have tags on them that include the name of a child in need and a toy they would like for Christmas. Those that wish to donate a toy can take a tag off the tree and return it with the toy. The main angel tree is in front of the Kolhs in Sierra Vista Mall and volunteers from the Clovis Senior Center are there to assist those who donate toys. The other angel trees are in front of Panera Bread and at both Clovis branches of Central Valley Community Bank, one on Pollasky and one on Herndon.

Antonovich said the Salvation Army couldn’t do what it does without these donations and also the aid of many volunteers.

“The volunteers are a significant part of this and they are the reason we are able to stay open and help local families in need,” she said.