Shoppers at a Franklin grocery store have come to know the smiling man who rings a bell for donations around Christmas.
Frank Wollam always shows up early with smile on his face, a pocket full of suckers for children and warm greetings for every shopper who passes through the doors.
For six weeks during the holidays, Wollam stands in the doorway at Kroger off U.S. 31 in Franklin from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday.
“Don’t you ever go home?” one shopper asked while putting a few dollars into the red bucket. Wollam laughed then replied, “Thank you, dear.”
Wollam, a Brown County resident who volunteers 20 hours a week as a Salvation Army bell ringer, knows his regulars from his time standing in that doorway through the years. He knows who donates and who doesn’t and who will take the time to apologize when they aren’t able to spare extra change or a few more dollars.
Whether people donate doesn’t change his approach.
“I’d do this all day if my feet would let me. I love people. I want to be here,” Wollam said. “During this time of year, this is more important than anything else. Unless a health issue stops me, I’ll be doing this until I die.”
The Salvation Army is trying to raise $3.5 million at more than 175 locations across the state this year, volunteer and Red Kettle campaign manager Brittany Faulkner said. The money raised will go toward supporting The Salvation Army programs and services, Faulkner said.
In Johnson County, the goal is to collect $90,000, and so far volunteers have collected about $48,000, retired Salvation Army Maj. Charles Kennedy said.
Including Wollam, The Salvation Army has more than 40 volunteers this season working at about 20 grocery stores and shopping centers throughout Johnson County where they collect donations in shifts from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Volunteers can ring in groups or by themselves. Groups of friends, individuals and families sign up each year, but usually only for a couple of shifts. Few dedicate a total of 120 hours through all six weeks like Wollam does, Kennedy said.
“Frank is an ideal bell ringer,” Kennedy said. “If everybody was like Frank, my job would be a lot easier. He’s reliable, he clears out his schedule through Christmas Eve for us. He’s just great with people. If not one of the best, he’s the best bell ringer we have.”
At a volunteer appreciation dinner several years ago, Wollam was honored as the bell ringer of the year, receiving a plaque and a commemorative bell. He’s been volunteering for about 10 years.
Last year, after Christmas, Wollam was bothered by the condition of the kettles, or buckets, that people put their donations in. In January, Wollam called Kennedy and told him he was going to repair, clean and repaint some of the buckets. When Kennedy asked him how many he was planning on refurbishing, Wollam told him all of them.
When Wollam went to pick up the almost 70 buckets, Kennedy was going to have him work on a few at a time as a small side project. But Wollam took every one of them home and spent more than five hours in one day refurbishing the buckets.
Wollam took every sticker off, cleaned every bucket and repainted some. He also adjusted where hooks went for the kettle stand and put a new Salvation Army sticker on each bucket, Wollam said.
“I got tired of seeing buckets, some dirty, others with stickers on them and holes in the wrong place making them hang funny. I just asked Maj. Kennedy if I could fix the buckets,” Wollam said. “I just wanted to make them uniform, make them look good. People will donate more with nicer buckets. They can recognize them better.”
This winter, Wollam plans to repair the kettle stands. Some need new chains, and others need pieces replaced or repainted. The stands need maintenance because many of the buckets don’t hang right, he said.
Wollam spent one of his years volunteering in Brown County and another year driving around helping Kennedy replace full buckets with empty ones. But Wollam said he just wants to be a bell ringer.
“I love volunteering for this organization,” Wollam said. “I show up early, set up my bucket and ring my bell until my shift is up. When the next volunteer comes, I’ll tell them how busy it was, wish them a good day and be right back the very next day.”
Salvation Army Red Kettle runs for roughly six weeks between Nov. 13 through Dec. 24. About 45 volunteers ring bells and collect donations at 20 locations across Johnson County.
Goal for total donations: $90,000
Money raised through Dec. 9: $48,000
The state of Indiana hopes to raise about $3.5 million this holiday season.
Bell ringing shifts start at 9 a.m. and end at 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Those interested in volunteering can sign up at RegisterToRing.com