Several years ago I was doing the traditional Salvation-Army-kicks-off-kettle-drive story and I was grabbing a soundbite with the public relations person. This was turning into an auto-pilot story until she said something that surprised me.
"We might not have enough money to pay our bell ringers this year."
"Huh? You guys pay bell ringers?"
"Well, we don't have enough volunteers, so we have to pay people to ring the bell."
I was floored. I mean, who knew? I simply assumed all those people you see at supermarkets and malls were just nice people who volunteered. The story suddenly took a different turn. Then we got into a discussion about why certain large venues didn't have bell ringers. Again, not enough money, not enough volunteers.
So naturally, guilt took over and I offered to ring the bell for a few hours.
A few weeks later I was assigned to do it at a super Wal-Mart, and, as luck would have it, the weather was absolutely miserable. Cold and pouring rain. The store manager took pity on me and let me bring the bucket inside.
Then I wished I had a camera with me.
The people who were well dressed and obviously not broke wouldn't make eye contact with me when I said, "Merry Christmas." The people who looked as if they were one step above being homeless stopped and put something in the bucket.
Anyway, two hours, a little over two hundred bucks in miserable conditions. I walked away with a new insight into human nature.
A few years later we worked out a deal with the Salvation Army where our staff would take turns for an entire day at one location, ringing the bell. I think it had the same effect on a lot of people.
We've all done stories on helping people during the holidays, but many times we really don't take the time to understand a different point of view. What's it really like to be poor? What's it like to run the Salvation Army and not have enough bell ringers?
Just some thoughts for a slow news month. Then again, it might not be a slow month for someone with a different point of view.