Ring Them Bells: Christmas Red Kettle Drive coming back to Lewistown

By: 
Charlie Denison
Reporter

 

From left, former Central Baptist Church pastor Earl Evans, current Central Baptist Church pastor Frank Burns and News-Argus publisher Jacques Rutten prepare for red kettle season with the Salvation Army Thursday. Volunteers will be out ringing the bells starting Monday, Dec. 12.

Photo by Charlie Denison

 

You see them at Albertsons.

You see them in front of the post office.

You see them at Shopko.

Starting two weeks before Christmas, men, women and families put on their aprons, stand in the cold, ring their bells and collect money in red kettles– no matter the weather – to raise funds to help those in need through the Salvation Army.

For the past 20-plus years, former Central Baptist pastor Earl Evans and Celebration Community Fellowship Pastor Curt Langendorff have worked on committees together to ensure the Salvation Army’s work continues in Central Montana.

“The mission of the Salvation Army is to do the most good,” Evans said, “and we are trying to do that with as many people as we can.”

“We are here to help those who have a need and cannot help themselves,” Langendorff added. “That involves folks on a local level and folks passing through.”

During his 25 years with the Salvation Army, Langendorff said the red kettle money has helped “many, many” people, and that’s going to continue, as this year’s Christmas Stroll was their best, making the group even more optimistic about how much they will raise this year.

And all the money that is raised stays local.

That’s one of the most meaningful elements of the Salvation Army for current Central Baptist Pastor Frank Burns, who has been involved with the program for the past 19 years.

“The money we raise, by and large, stays here,” Burns said.

“We have 100 percent use of these funds,” said Evans, a 28-year Salvation Army committee member “We decide how the money is spent, where it’s spent, who it’s spent for and how it’s used to help people.”

 

An essential service

The Salvation Army is an essential service, Burns said, as the need in Lewistown is strong.

“We have a lot of needy people in this town,” he said. “You wouldn’t think it. We’re not inner-city, but there are an awful lot.”

Fortunately, the generosity of the community is “substantial,” according to Burns.

“The Salvation Army head office told us our community per capita has one of the best red kettle drives in the state,” Burns said, “And we do it in only two weeks. Some of these other cities are ringing the bell earlier.”

“Considering the size of Billings and Great Falls, that’s impressive,” Evans added.

Burns said the numbers are astounding, and the money is broken down to support the highest emergency needs.

“Through last September, 36 percent of the money went to gas and transportation, 22 percent for food, 21 percent to utility assistance and 20 percent for renting assistance,” Burns said. “Money was also used to put 118 [people] up for a night in one of the motels in town and assist 518 people with prescriptions.”

Committee members did not want to disclose how much money they raise each year, but Burns said it is “significant.”

Evans and his fellow pastor friends say “thank you” to the community for all of their kind donations through the years.

“Thank you for helping us help people,” he said. “This community is generous to a fault. We have the most giving people here I’ve ever encountered in all of my life. Thank you for being the caring people you are.”

Burns, Evans and Langendorff also thanked their vendors for assisting those in need, be it hotel managers, filling station owners or others.

 

Worth it

No matter how cold it gets standing outside the post office, Albertsons, Shopko or elsewhere, it’s the kindness that keeps the volunteers going.

But that doesn’t make it easy.

“Oh, it’s cold, alright,” Burns said. “Don’t drop that bell. It will shatter (laughs).”

 Shivering doesn’t stop people from putting their time in, as a number of local organizations (Kiwanis, Rotary and others) get involved, as do 80 percent of the churches in town.

Seeing so many participate and seeing so many donate brings much joy to Evans, Langendorff and the other representatives of the committee, including First Presbyterian Pastor Jed Cauffman, Zion Lutheran Pastor Lynne Ogren and St. James Episcopal Pastor Jean Collins. Once the bell starts ringing, the holiday spirit captures them.

“It’s Christmas,” Langendorff said with enthusiasm. “What better time to ring those bells?”

For those in need of assistance, call the local service extension unit at 366-2982. A representative is available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Those interested in volunteering at a red kettle can contact Frank Burns at 350-0007. Those interested in donating can also send checks to P.O. Box 796 Lewistown, Montana, 59457.

 

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