Christmas bells are ringing for Alice Rozek.
“It’s fun; it’s rewarding,” she said Thursday as she rang a small bell for the Salvation Army outside the Price Chopper supermarket on Route 50 in Glenville. “You get to see the glow on people’s faces when they put money in the kettle, when they realize what good they do.”
Maj. Mike Himes, commanding officer of the Salvation Army office in Schenectady, hopes more people feel all aglow for the holidays. The Salvation Army — like large and small merchants — is feeling the financial pinch that comes with an abbreviated shopping season.
“The short season is because Thanksgiving was late in the month,” Himes said. “We ring between Thanksgiving and Christmas. We don’t have as many weeks, as we do in most years.”
Himes said the local chapter increases its holiday goal a small amount each year. This year, he hopes bell-ringers can raise $140,000.
“We’re behind this year,” Himes said. “Usually, I’m hesitant to say that, but we’re $17,000 behind right now.”
Dollar bills and pocket change collected in the red metal kettles fund holiday dinners and toy purchases.
“In some families, if there are not kids, they get food,” Himes said. “If there are children involved, the family gets toys.”
Salvation Army personnel also deliver meals to shut-ins and small gifts — this year fleece lap blankets — to nursing homes.
Rozek and her friend Ellie Stockman are happy to help the cause. They were volunteering at Price Chopper last week with other members of the Beukendaal-George Hope Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star.
“Most people don’t ask questions about the kettle,” said Rozek, 74, who lives in Scotia. “They know what it’s all about. We find sometimes people who have next to nothing are the ones who give the most.”
Stockman, 71, who lives in Rotterdam, said she likes to see children drop coins into the kettle.
She and Rozek were ringing bells that were about the size of billiard balls. They used to be bigger and louder.
“I guess people didn’t like hearing the loud ring, so they went to something smaller,” said Stockman, who wore a blue New York Mets cap and a blue apron emblazoned with the Army’s red shield.
The sound still registers. Stockman said people are still giving.
“They put in whatever they can afford,” she said. “They’ll put in more than once — every time they go past a kettle.”
The women both had lawn chairs for their two-hour visit at the store, as Eastern Star volunteers took turns throughout the day.
“I can stand for just a few minutes,” Rozek said, “then I have to sit down.”
The bell-ringing tradition began in 1891 in San Francisco. According to Salvation Army reference sources, Capt. Joseph McFee was troubled because many poor people were going hungry. During the holiday season, he resolved to provide a free Christmas dinner for people who had little.
He had to raise the money first. He remembered his days as a sailor in England, when a large, iron kettle would be placed on a boat dock and passers-by would throw in coins to help the poor.
McFee placed a similar pot in San Francisco, at the foot of Market Street. Beside the container, he placed a sign that read, “Keep the Pot Boiling,” and he raised enough money to fund his new cause.
By the late 1890s, the kettle idea had spread to the east. In 1901, kettle contributions in New York City provided funds for the first large sit-down dinner in Madison Square Garden. Bell-ringers are now common throughout the United States.
“We’re sort of the harbingers of Christmas,” Himes said. “If we’re not in a store, people ask, ‘Where are you?’ A lot of children will tug on their parents’ coats and say, ‘Let me put something in, let me put something in.’ We try to spread cheer.”
This season, the Schenectady Salvation Army has agreements with Price Chopper and Walmart stores. Himes has 11 paid and volunteer bell-ringers on the job this month and is especially grateful for groups from the Eastern Star, St. George’s Episcopal Church, Scotia Rotary, Knolls Atomic Power Lab and the SI Group from Rotterdam Junction for Saturday hours.
“There’s no overhead,” Himes said. “We just give them the bell and the kettle and they go out and ring.”
Dan Roe, 51, a Schenectady cab driver, understands the importance of the bell mission.
“There are a lot of people in the area who really need our help,” he said, ringing a gold-colored bell in front of the Walmart store on Altamont Avenue in Rotterdam. “I think it’s good we can help families and children ... and maybe bring them to the good Lord a little bit, too.”
Roe’s routine involves ringing and talking. He wished people around the store entrances a merry Christmas and thanked people who placed money into his red kettle.
Because Roe works outside, he dresses for December. He wore a cadet blue sweater, gray slacks, black gloves and a navy blue knit cap.
“The only time it gets cold is when the wind blows,” he said.
Roe doesn’t mind the ringing in his ears.
“It’s a little worn out from all this,” he said of his standard-issue bell. “I’ve got a spare in my pocket.”