One of the most common excuses shoppers give Salvation Army bell ringers is that they just don’t have cash or coins to drop into the red bucket.

Now, they’ve got a fix for that with card readers that can take $5 payments. But another problem is threatening the organization: fewer volunteers are signing up to ring bells.

The personal connection between a bell ringer and a shopper is key to raising the money that funds the Salvation Army programs locally all year long. The organization that helps 850 families in the county is facing a major shortage in volunteers for the second year in a row, social services coordinator Ricky Hayes.

In 2015, the Salvation Army raised more than $104,000, but in 2016 that number fell to $70,000, due to a shortage of volunteers and people who signed up to ring bells but didn’t show up, Hayes said.

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As of last week, longtime volunteer Frank Wollam was the only bell ringer in the county. The Salvation Army had hoped to already be collecting at seven sites across the county before more collection spots are opened after Thanksgiving, Hayes said.

About a dozen volunteers are signed up to start after Thanksgiving, but the organization needs at least 50 volunteers if the Salvation Army is to raise all of the funds needed to operate its programs next year.

“Right now we are below where we have been the last couple of years,” Hayes said.

The kettles are the organization’s main fundraiser each year, and in Johnson County, the money provides assistance for as many as 850 families in need, with help for everything from paying rent and utilities to operating a food pantry, Hayes said.

Wollam’s advice for people thinking about becoming a bell ringer for the first time is to give it a try.

“Just try it and you’ll enjoy it,” Wollam said. “It warms your heart.”

He has been a bell-ringer for the Salvation Army at the Kroger in Franklin for about 15 years and spent Friday taking donations the old-fashioned way with the drop of cash and coins into the red bucket, and with card readers not attached to some of the red kettles.

But even as technology advances, the personal connection made between bell ringers and shoppers still matters, Wollam said. Every year, he calls the Salvation Army office and asks for the 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. slot at Kroger from Monday to Friday, which they save for him each year, Wollam said.

“I could stand off to the side and watch and 99 percent of the time no one would put anything in the bucket,” Wollam said.

But as Wollam stood by the bucket inside the doors at Kroger ringing his bell, the majority of people who passed by took the time to make a donation as he greeted them.

The personal connections Wollam has made with Kroger shoppers, many of whom he knows by face after more than a decade of volunteering, is incredibly important, he said.

At a glance

Here is where you can donate to one of the Salvation Army’s red kettles this year:

Greenwood

  • Greenwood Park Mall, 1251 S. U.S. 31
  • Kroger, 2200 Independence Drive
  • Kroger, 3100 Meridian Parke Drive
  • Kroger, 5961 N. State Road 135
  • Sam’s Club, 1101 Windhorst Way
  • Walgreens, 700 S. U.S. 31
  • Walgreens, 720 S. State Road 135
  • Walmart, 882 S. State Road 135

Franklin

  • Walmart, 2125 N. Morton St.
  • Kroger, 970 N. Morton St.
  • Walgreens, 20 S. Morton St.
  • Big Lots, 1538 N. Morton St.

Edinburgh

  • Circle K, 10080 N. U.S. 31
  • Edinburgh Premium Outlets, 11622 NE Executive Drive

At a glance

How to volunteer

The Johnson County Salvation Army is seeking volunteers to man its red kettles at 14 locations across the county. Volunteers can sign up online at registertoring.com or call the Johnson County office at 371-881-2505.

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Jacob Tellers is a reporter at the Daily Journal. He can be reached at jtellers@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2702.