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Many paths to becoming a bell ringer for the Salvation Army

A number of Alamance County’s elected and appointed officials and community volunteers have joined forces with the Salvation Army of Alamance County to raise money for people in need this holiday season through the organization’s annual Red Kettle campaign.

Donations are used to provide needy individuals in the community with assistance that includes groceries from its food pantry, toys for children, tutoring and afterschool programs for children, and a community dinner at Thanksgiving and Christmas for people in need.

“Here, all the money raised stays in Alamance County and helps us pay for utilities, for rent, and our food pantry is the now the largest in Alamance County – it helps us to keep that running,” said Lt. Jimmy Pierre, who along with his wife, Gessica Pierre, serve as the “commanding officers,” overseeing the operations for Salvation Army of Alamance County.

There aren’t quite as many outposts in the county where Salvation Army bell-ringers are stationed this year, but there’s a stable roster of volunteers – including Alamance County sheriff Terry Johnson, Burlington police chief Brian Long, and Alamance-Burlington school board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves – who are willing to take a few hours out of their hectic schedules to ring the bell to raise money for people in need, Jimmy Pierre said Tuesday in an interview with The Alamance News.

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School board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves, who is also a real estate agent, was joined by fellow realtor Joshua Whitley of Graham while ringing the bell for the Salvation Army at Food Lion in Graham. On another occasion (below), Ellington-Graves added some festive head gear.  Also below (right) Katie Graves, 17, a junior at Southern High School and daughter of school board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves, at Food Lion in Graham. The school board chairman is to be on duty at Belt Friday 2:00 to 7:00 and at Food Lion in Graham again on Saturday between 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.

“We lost Harris Teeter,” Pierre said, referring to the store in New Market Square shopping center off South Church Street in Burlington. The organization is approved to have bell ringers at 20 locations throughout the county, and hopes to add the Publix store in Burlington to the lineup of Red Kettle sites for 2023, Pierre told the newspaper.

While the Salvation Army has struggled in years past to recruit volunteer bell ringers, the organization made it easier to sign up to take a shift through its online service,, Pierre said.

Ellington-Graves told The Alamance News Tuesday that she’s volunteered to ring the bell for Salvation Army three times so far this holiday season, and is planning to ring the bell again outside the Belk store at Alamance Crossing this Friday night and at the Food Lion store in Graham on Saturday morning.

Ellington-Graves said that, during one of her earlier “shifts” at Food Lion in Graham, her daughter, Katie Graves, 17, a junior at Southern High School, initially stopped by to help out for an hour or so.

“I never touched the bell or the apron,” Ellington-Graves recalled in the interview. “She set her phone up and was playing Christmas carols – it was fun – [but] I think it’s good to teach her to help those less fortunate.”

Other local officials have waged friendly competitions to see who could out-fundraise the other, Pierre said in the interview.

Alamance County sheriff Terry Johnson faced off with Burlington police chief Brian Long in the “Battle of the Kettle” this month, with Johnson ringing the bell at the Walmart off Garden Road this past Saturday, while Long rang the bell there two weeks ago, on December 17.


Sheriff named top bell-ringer in 2021
The sheriff won the “top bell-ringer award” after raising the most amount of money in a single day, Pierre said in the interview, for which Johnson was honored at the local organization’s first annual volunteer appreciation dinner last year.

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“This year, he went up against chief [Brian] Long – the whole police department rang the bell at Walmart [on] Garden Road,” Pierre said, adding that Burlington’s fire chief, Ricky Irby, and Irby’s wife also volunteered as bell-ringers this year. “We’re trying to get all the mayors and fire chief next year,” Pierre told the newspaper.

The Salvation Army of Alamance County saw a dip in donations during Covid but has gradually bounced back. “In 2020, we were down, but last year we [saw] a huge boost – we passed all of our goals,” he said.

This year, Salvation Army of Alamance County set a fundraising goal of $120,000 for the Red Kettle campaign, Pierre told the newspaper. “As of today, we’re at $80,000 with [less than] one week to go,” he said.


Some hope to create a new family tradition of service to others
Other community members have also joined hands to create new family traditions by volunteering their time to help those less fortunate.

“That used to be a trend, but it’s coming back because a lot of people are saying they want to set a family tradition,” Pierre explained.

That’s what Devlin Shaw of Burlington said he and his wife, Marie Shaw, had in mind when they signed up to ring the bell at the Lowes Food in west Burlington this past Saturday afternoon. “I’ve been trying to do something annually with my kids – we go out and pick [up] a bunch of toys for kids of need,” Devlin Shaw said Tuesday in an interview with The Alamance News.

Devlin Shaw said he and his wife, Marie Shaw, are hoping to teach their daughters, Lillian, 8, and Emilia, 5, early on the importance of giving back to their community.

“I don’t think young people understand today how good they have it,” Devlin Shaw said in the interview. “I wanted them to see people of need and experience that, but we have to find those types of opportunities.”

“It’s tough out there, and we kind of understood that Salvation Army really does help the community, kids [in] need,” Shaw said. “We were inspired by that, but it was also one of the things we could do as a family.” He said he and his wife had thought about volunteering with a local soup kitchen but learned their daughters didn’t meet age requirements to volunteer.

“We did enjoy it; we had a bunch of fun,” Shaw said of the family’s tour of duty this past weekend at the Lowes Food store in west Burlington. “We saw some family and friends out there; I think we’ll do it again, but we’ll also consider other opportunities.”

This Saturday, December 24, is the final day of the campaign, Pierre told the newspaper Tuesday.

In the meantime, the organization will continue to accept any help from volunteers who are willing to spare a few hours to ring the bell at any one of the 20 Red Kettle sites in the county, which include all Lowes Foods and Food Lion stores, as well as Belk and Hobby Lobby at Alamance Crossing, according to the lieutenant.

Two staff members at the Salvation Army of Alamance County rang the bell and played Christmas carols outside the Belk store at Alamance Crossing earlier this holiday season.

“I do want to say, we appreciate all of our volunteers,” Pierre emphasized. “We’ve had churches, schools, elected officials – it’s been a great outpouring.”

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