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Salvation Army Red Kettle Campaign kicks off

November 20, 2018

BLACKFOOT — The Salvation Army in Blackfoot has witnessed a six-fold increase in recent years in monetary donations during its Red Kettle Campaign largely due to one local man’s special “Hallmark moment.”

During the Salvation Army’s Southeast Idaho Red Kettle Campaign kickoff event in Blackfoot on Monday, Paul Bingham, a Blackfoot-based delivery driver for the United Parcel Service, shared his story of how a Hallmark Channel Christmas special not only inspired him to become a bell-ringer for the Salvation Army, but also motivated him to recruit hundreds of other Southeast Idahoans to donate time during the holiday season.

“About five years ago, I was watching a Hallmark special about a young man who had found himself in a little bit of trouble with the law after he had lost his temper at a ball game and as a result, he was asked to do community service,” Bingham said. “One of the things he was asked to do was ring the bells for the Salvation Army. It was something that he absolutely did not want to do, but as he continued to do it, it became a wonderful experience.”

At the movie’s conclusion, Bingham, who had spent the entire day delivering holiday packages, was moved enough that he decided it was time he slid into a red Salvation Army apron and started ringing the bell himself.

Coincidentally, Bingham, who doesn’t normally receive a copy of the newspaper every morning, awoke the next day to find a newspaper on his front steps. And inside that paper was a large advertisement from the Salvation Army looking for volunteers in the Blackfoot area.

“So I went over and volunteered on a Saturday morning and rang the bell for a couple of hours, it was a wonderful experience,” Bingham said. “But, nobody came at the end of two hours to relieve me, so I stayed another hour and nobody came. I stayed another half-hour and nobody came, so finally I had to go turn the bucket back in.”

The following Saturday, Bingham volunteered again, this time taking his children out with him.

“Again, it was a wonderful experience but after a couple hours nobody was there to relieve me,” Bingham said, “I could see that the problem was not in having people give, the problem was that we just didn’t have enough people out there to ring the bell.”

This lack of Salvation Army volunteers spurred Bingham into action during the next holiday season. In addition to ringing the bell, Bingham worked with Blackfoot’s mayor at the time, Paul Loomis, to create a Salvation Army bell-ringing volunteer sign-up website and then reached out to organizations and groups in the community to help spread the word.

“As we embarked on this process, we realized that we needed about 1,000 volunteers each putting in an hour a day,” Bingham said. “That’s when we reached out to the (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), the Methodist Church, the Rotary Club, and the Blackfoot and Snake River High schools. Everyone pitched in and this has become a tradition where families, individuals and groups will come out and ring the bell.”

Bingham said that he has recruited approximately 500 to 600 volunteers to ring the Salvation Army bell every year, resulting in a six-fold monetary donation increase in just a few years.

“We went from $3,000 in donations the first year to $12,000 the next year and $17,000 the next just in Blackfoot,” Bingham said. “Because of the success here, we reached out to Tami Moore in Pocatello and decided to duplicate this process.”

Though she wishes she could clone Bingham himself, Salvation Army Lt. Tami Moore said Bingham’s approach to recruiting in Blackfoot has been replicated in both Pocatello and Idaho Falls.

“Volunteerism is really needed within the Salvation Army, especially for bell ringing,” Moore said. “We know that the unemployment level is really low right now so we aren’t able to even hire bell-ringers, and that can become a big problem for us and could mean that we lose sites or hours.”

Those interested in volunteering with the Salvation Army in Pocatello and Idaho Falls are encouraged to sign up online by visiting ringidaho.org. Those in Blackfoot can sign up by visiting signup.com/go/dyiTmfo.

With a 10 percent administrative overhead, Bingham said the Salvation Army puts the remaining 90 percent of donations back into the communities from which the money was donated.

“That money can go toward prescriptions, housing, gas money, clothing, food or anything else people may need,” Bingham said. “We hope that this will become a tradition for years to come throughout the country but especially in Southeast Idaho.”

Bingham continued, “The people in these communities are so (willing) to give. People of all faiths and no faith at all are just ready to drop money in the kettles. We just need to have somebody out there ringing.”

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