Bell ringers clang up support for Salvation Army (Video)

The annual Salvation Army red kettle campaign started with one iron kettle in 1891. Today red kettle donations provide Christmas dinners, clothing, and toys for families in need. Financial assistance also helps with basic necessities. Standing alongside each red kettle is a bell ringer, a vital player in making sure the people who walk by the red kettles stop and drop a donation.
  • RED KETTLE LOCATIONS

  • Walmart SuperCenterSam's ClubWalgreens (all four Victoria locations)U.S. Post Office, Sam Houston locationVictoria Mall - JC PenneyHobby LobbyBig LotsFor more information, to donate or to volunteer, call the Salvation Army at 361-576-1297.

Though they hail from all walks of life, Salvation Army red kettle bell ringers have one thing in common.

"They want to help others," said Major Ernest Lozano, local Salvation Army commander. "They are here to try to make Christmas a little bit brighter, bring a little bit of joy and hope into the lives of the people they encounter every day."

Eileen Robinson, 57, can't remember exactly how long she's been a bell ringer, but does recall how it makes her feel.

"I love it. It helps the kids. The Salvation Army helped my family a long time ago," she said. "I also love the stories I get to hear."

Lozano, too, has bell ringer stories from the gold Krugerrand once left in a red kettle in Plainview to forgetting his son who was outside ringing the bell in sub-freezing temperatures.

"I was floored. That coin allowed us to help so many others," Lozano said.

As for forgetting his son, Lozano said a busy work day led to him being late picking him up.

"He had a beard at that time. Not only was it all white, but he had ice on his face. I felt so horrible," said the major. "He stood out there for so long. I took him home, fed him some warm soup and he slept for 10 straight hours. He was so exhausted.

"But his effort made Christmas that much brighter for so many that were hurting and the most vulnerable in that community," the major said.

Ernie Lozano, 29, remembers that Christmas, about 10 years ago.

"It was snowing pretty crazy and it was below freezing," he recalled. "The snow would melt on me then turn to ice. By the time I got picked up, I had ice on my face. The wind was blowing right in my face that day. I was just trying to make it through."

Ernie, who started as a bell ringer at about age 12, isn't the only Lozano who is a regular bell-ringing volunteer.

The major's mother, Celia Ramirez, has made the trek from Harlingen to Victoria the last six years to offer her services as a bell ringer. Ramirez is 85.

Major Lozano said the 2011 campaign, which began in mid-November, is on pace to reach its $75,000 goal.

This season, the Salvation Army has used about 20 regular workers and about 40 volunteers to help ring the bell.

"All of our regular workers and the volunteers have done an outstanding job," said Lozano. "However, this goal would not be attainable without the most generous support of our caring Victoria community."

Told that twice this year, her bucket has contained $100 bills, Robinson half-snorted, half-laughed in surprise.

"For real? Two times?" she said. "That's wonderful. I didn't know that. It makes me feel happy inside knowing that."