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Traditions: Shop tries to stem ebbing tide of bell ringers
By Emily Topper
Willie and Melissa Lee model their business around Hebrews 10:24, the verse displayed in the front of their shop: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”
The couple has tried to do that through their gift shop, Good Deed Goods, located inside Lee’s Inlet Apothecary. Two years ago, they began donating 10 percent of all monthly sales to one local, one national and one international charity.
Now, they are asking the community to join them in giving back — with a ring. From now until Dec. 23, the shop is aiming to have bell ringers for the Salvation Army in front of their storefront six days a week.
“The Salvation Army was one of our three charities last year,” Willie Lee said. “We thought a nice addition would be to host a bell ringer.”
The shop first hosted bell ringers last year, and the Lee family realized that the Salvation Army faced a shortage of bell ringers.
“The conversation was rather shocking,” Willie Lee said. “They said they were struggling to find bell ringers. I said, ‘Now I know I want one.’ ”
Known as the Red Kettle, the Salvation Army’s signature red bucket made its debut in 1891, when Salvation Army Capt. Joseph McFee fed 1,000 needy San Francisco residents on Christmas Day. In 2015, Red Kettle funds of just under $150 million fed 30 million people.
Major David Repass, a corps officer with Salvation Army in Conway, said the location had between 40 to 45 bell ringers last year. In 2016, the county brought in $198,000 from Red Kettles.
“This is a very generous county,” Repass said. “That’s just a mammoth amount.” The Salvation Army in Georgetown could not be reached for comment.
One of the major challenges, Repass said, was finding enough volunteers to keep the bells ringing all day long.
“Some folks are not able to do it all day long,” Repass said. “We are trying to cover as many locations as we can. We have 27 doors, but I don’t know that we’ve ever had a full day with every door covered.”
Stores like the Lees’ are aiming to do their small part to increase efforts.
“We raised a good amount of money last year,” Willie Lee said, noting that volunteers last year were primarily the owners’ friends and family. “This year, we started in early November. We started reaching out to our customer base, our employees, our families.”
One of the first volunteers to sign up was customer Larry Day, who lives about a mile down the road from the shop on Business 17. Lee recruited him when he first put out the sign-up sheet.
“I signed up to do it for this week,” Day said. He begins ringing the bell at 10 a.m. and stays until his legs are worn out. Lee “just caught me at a good time. We had a pretty good amount of people come through here yesterday.”
Lee said the shop plans to make the bell ringers a permanent fixture during the holidays.
“It’s coming along,” Lee said. “We’ve been using the hashtag #NoQuietBell to promote it. I got a phone call yesterday from a father who wants his two sons to come ring the bell. I’ve probably got four or five employees that are taking a shift, and my mom and I are taking shifts, too. I think it’s got a home now.”
Ideally, Lee said, he hopes that volunteers sign up for hour-long or two-hour shifts so that someone is always ringing the bell.
“If the bell is dormant, they are welcome to come ring it,” he said. “We will take anybody. We’re open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays. We’d love that bell to be ringing while we’re open.”
While the bell ringers will be a staple in future years, the store chooses three new charities every month to benefit from the proceeds of Good Deed Goods.
“The Lord’s blessed us,” Lee said. “I haven’t missed it. The Lord has blessed the business to be able to give something away, and people like to know that they’re giving back.”
To sign up to be a bell ringer for the Salvation Army, volunteers can contact Lee at 843-651-7979.
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