The sound of ringing bells is as familiar a sign of the Christmas season as manger scenes and twinkling lights. And for one nationally-recognized organization, those ringing bells signal their major fundraiser for the year.

Salvation Army of Grayson County has 14 locations for bell ringers this holiday season. Maj. Tex Ellis said they are still looking for volunteers to man those kettles and offer passersby a hearty “Merry Christmas” for their donations. The season runs Monday through Saturday and ends Dec. 23.

Maj. Andrea Ellis said the proceeds from the kettles go to help run the various programs offered by the Salvation Army, including the shelter program and financial assistance program.

While some bell ringers are paid and that helps to provide jobs to those who need them, Tex Ellis said volunteer bell ringers allow more of the donations to go to the Salvation Army’s programs. He said it is a great way for a family, office group or company to get together to do something meaningful for the holiday season.

Tex Ellis said there are no special skills required to do the job besides a willingness to greet people with a cheery smile and hearty holiday cheer. Of course, they want people who will show up when and where they said they would and who have a desire serve a worthy cause, but really cheerfulness and the desire to greet people is key.

Information on the Salvation Army’s national website says that on average, bell ringers raise about $60 per two-hour shift with donations.

The Salvation Army asks that bell ringers not hand out any kind of promotional material or give out candy to those who make donations to their red kettles, but bell ringers are encouraged to say “thank you” for the donations.

The Salvation Army has said bell ringers and their kettles can be traced back to December 1891 when a Capt. Joseph McFee wanted to provide a Christmas meal for 1,000 poor people in San Francisco, California, but didn’t have the money to buy the food.

However, he remembered seeing, when he was a sailor, a tradition in Liverpool, England, where they put a large pot on the docks of the city’s waterfront for charitable donations.

The article says that inspired by his memory, McFee put a brass urn at the Oakland Ferry Landing. Next to the pot he put a note that told people to “Keep the Pot Boiling” and he soon had plenty of money to fund his Christmas dinner.

By two years later, the article says, his idea had spread to 30 locations on the West Coast. He was helped in growing the idea by two Salvation Army officers named William A. McIntyre and N. J. Lewis. In 1895, those two men were transferred to the East Coast and took the kettle idea with them. McIntyre, the article said, went to Boston and set up three kettles there and it was a huge success. Next the kettles spread to New York City where the idea really took off. Now the kettles are found in most of the countries served by the Salvation Army.

To find out more about bell ringing or to volunteer, please call 903-868-9602.