Meet a Salvation Army Bell Ringer: Going Above and Beyond to Give Back

Dec 18, 2023

For years, the calendar would get close to Christmas, and Mary Bean would think about volunteering at a red kettle as a Salvation Army bell ringer. But with a busy career, she never seemed to have the time. Then, came the pandemic in 2020. As the world was isolating itself – and bell ringers were increasingly hard to find – she grabbed a bell and headed to the Boscov’s in Lebanon, Pennsylvania.

Fast forward to 2023, and Bean is going into her fourth-year of bell ringing, three times a week, at her same spot. Sometimes, she even adds a personal touch by dressing up as Mrs. Claus.

“When I am out there, I open doors for people, and, at times, I like to joke around with them, which people appreciate,” she said. “If someone asks about The Salvation Army, I try to provide that information. I try to treat others the way I want to be treated.” Bean is one of hundreds of bell ringers who take to the streets and shopping centers of The Salvation Army Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware Division each year.

Unfortunately, for The Salvation Army and the people it serves, the number of bell-ringing volunteers at its iconic red kettles is declining.

Last year, bell ringer collective volunteer hours decreased by 11.7%, compared to the previous year, totaling a $506,123.49 decrease in in-person donations. This amounts to $91.71 lost per hour at every vacant kettle stand.

Additionally, The Salvation Army Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware Division experienced a decrease in red kettle holiday fundraising revenue of $462,000, or 15%, in 2022, from $3.5 million the previous year to $3.038 million.

That has a direct impact on the Salvation Army’s services. In 2022, The Salvation Army Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware Division served 477,617 people, including more than 4.5 million meals and more than 445,000 nights of shelter provided to individuals and families across the region.


Bell ringing at The Salvation Army dates back to 1900 with Amelia Kunkel, a 16-year-old volunteer in New York City. Frustrated by the many passersby near Wall Street who ignored her kettle stand, she went to a nearby Woolworth’s department store and bought a small bell for ten cents. After garnering more contributions by ringing the bell, the idea soon spread, starting a holiday tradition that continues today in cities and towns across the nation.

Every holiday season, The Salvation Army runs its national Red Kettle Campaign, which helps raise money to support different programs and resources that benefit those in need. The money raised goes directly back into the community where the red kettle is stationed. But it can’t be done without volunteers.

“The money we raise at Christmas isn't just about spreading holiday cheer; it's about ensuring a lifeline of support for those in need throughout the year – and volunteers like Mary Bean are essential to making this happen,” said Lt. Colonel Larry Ashcraft, Divisional Commander of The Salvation Army Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware Division. “Without the support, The Salvation Army will have difficulties bridging this gap. We want to ensure that we continue to provide vital support to our local neighbors struggling to make ends meet this holiday season and beyond."


From the time that Bean was a child, she has monitored The Salvation Army from a distance and always respected the work they did in their communities.

“When I was a kid, I remember seeing the red kettles, and I always wanted to be a part of that,” she said.  “I went ahead and applied because I thought it was a good thing to do.”

Before retiring, Bean worked as a mental health case manager, and whenever she had clients who did not fit the qualifications of certain social agencies, she would call upon The Salvation Army to assist her clients. During the holidays, she would also direct her clients to The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree Program, which provides Christmas gifts for families around the country.

Once she retired and saw the impact of COVID-19 on the community, she felt she needed to get more involved. “The pandemic had a profound impact, and I thought it would be good timing if I could do something for a good cause like The Salvation Army,” she said.

It was during her first year that she began to dress up as Mrs. Claus to spread better cheer.

“I felt that something more was needed to brighten people up.” she said. “Everything was uncertain at that time. I guess you could say the spirit moved me, and I decided to drive to Harrisburg one night and get a Mrs. Claus outfit.”

For her efforts, Bean gets to see the excitement on people’s faces and know she is supporting a good cause. To her, that is all the motivation and fulfillment she needs to dress up and bell ring.

“I just enjoy it -- it's the only way to describe it, honestly,” she said. “If I can get one person to smile or laugh, I feel so good about it.”

With the bell ringing numbers declining, Bean wants people to know that some of the perks of bell ringing are having a sense of community, doing something bigger than yourself, and having a connection with God when doing His work.

“You will get more out of it than you expect. It is well worth your time and effort. It truly is better to give than to receive.”

For more information on how to get involved with The Salvation Army and Red Kettle Campaign, please visit To support the Division’s Virtual Red Kettle, visit or donate local by texting “KETTLE” to 31333.

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