Steamboat Springs Salvation Army bell ringers are as much a part of the holiday season as Charles Dickens and tangled Christmas lights.
As if announcing the countdown to Dec. 25, the bells started ringing at 9 a.m. Friday. By noon, volunteers had filled their first kettle.
Until Christmas Eve, volunteers will be ringing bells to raise donations for the Salvation Army. Volunteers will be downtown and in front of Safeway, City Market and Wal-Mart. Downtown is covered by members of the Masonic Lodge.
"Despite the fact that it's not a large club, they do a good job," Salvation Army volunteer Susan Mizen said. "They work long hours."
Although several people have signed up to ring bells for hour shifts, more volunteers are needed.
"Some volunteers bring their dogs, and a lot of people do it as a family," Mizen said.
The Salvation Army tries to staff bell-ringing stations from 3 to 6 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays.
"It takes a lot of people to cover all those hours," Mizen said.
The bell-ringing campaign continues through Christmas Eve, when Tami and Scott Havener take their traditional shift.
"(The Haveners) have rung the bell on Christmas Eve for as long as I can remember," Mizen said.
Mizen remembers being a bit unsure the first time she took a shift as a volunteer bell ringer, but she quickly realized that people are happy to see the red kettle and rarely walk by without dropping some change in.
Last year was the biggest fundraising year for local bell-ringing efforts, which raised $12,000 in change and small bills.
"It really does depend on how many volunteers we have ringing the bells," Mizen said. Each bell ringer usually brings in $50 a shift. "If we get 10 more hours covered, that's an extra $500. That's why it's so important to take an hour shift."
Being a small community, Steamboat Springs does not have an official Salvation Army office in town. Instead, LIFT-UP of Routt County houses the Steamboat Springs Extension Unit of the Salvation Army. The office is staffed by the LIFT-UP director and the food bank coordinator.
The money raised during the annual kettle campaign is used by LIFT-UP as a last resort. It might be used to buy prescription medicine for the uninsured or to buy a tank of gas for someone who just got a job and needs fuel to get to work until the first payday, Mizen said.
"We set a limit. Each family can only request $200. It's not a lot of money, but sometimes it only takes $25 to help a family move forward.
"It doesn't take a lot of money to make a difference."
-- To reach Autumn Phillips, call 871-4210 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org