New restrictions may limit Salvation Army bellringer donations

BURIEN, Wash. - Some Salvation Army bell ringers are getting a later start at putting out their kettles this year.

The bell ringers are collecting money to help the needy - but new restrictions on when they can ring their bells may lead to fewer donations this year.

Nearly 500 bell ringers - some paid, some volunteer - are spread out right now through the Puget Sound region.

They work six days a week, and on Sunday they rest.

They rely on the generosity of stores like Fred Meyer to give them permission to stand out front. But this year, some other stores are asking the bell ringers to come back later or go someplace else.

The Salvation Army bell ringers are a 100-year tradition - politely collecting money for their red kettles. Typically, the Army's kettle collections begin six weeks before Christmas. But some national stores are asking the Salvation Army to delay the collection - or are not allowing it all on their property.

"Some are cutting back on the hours for safety reasons once the sun goes down," says Maj. Doug Tollerud, the Salvation Army's Northwest division commander. "Other things are the sound of the bell, too loud of a bell, not enough bell."

Public sidewalks like those in downtown Seattle are not an issue. But in front of supermarkets, which are private property, the bell ringers need permission.

Fred Meyer is one major chain that has not put up restrictions. But some stores are restricting the bell ringers access to their front doors until one week before Christmas - not the usual six.

But the Salvation Army's Maj. Tollerud isn't fretting.

"God always provides, and the reality of it is - whatever restrictions come up, we are able to move and move fast to find other places to put out our bells and our kettles," he says.

What's collected in the bell ringers' red kettles at Christmas represents a third of all the donations the Salvation Army collects all year. The Army is very thankful that stores even let them stand in their doorways.

But less collection time can mean less money and food for those really need it.

The major did not want to say the names of the chains that increasing restrictions because they are still partners with the Salvation Army.

Typically, the Army's bell ringers in the Puget Sound region bring in $4 million a year.