Salvation Army volunteers ring in the holidays
On a sunny Monday afternoon outside the El Jebel City Market, Mary and Pete Delany greeted a river of shoppers as they rang little bells near a bright red donation bucket.
“We’re very lucky, because our time slot has had very good weather every time,” 65-year-old Pete said, chuckling. “It’s our time to get in our winter tan.”
Mary, 70, said the couple have volunteered for various organizations, including LIFT-UP and Extended Table, for decades, but they could never figure out how to become bell ringers.
“We always pass by them, but we never quite knew how to get involved,” she said.
After reaching out to fellow valley volunteers and members of their congregation at the Basalt Community United Methodist Church, however, the couple discovered Bill Orthwein, the Salvation Army’s El Jebel bell captain.
“A bell captain organizes and recruits all the people that ring the bell,” 62-year-old Orthwein said. “Mary and Pete are amazing people and great fun to have around.”
Valley residents of more than 40 years, the Delanys said volunteering was a calling of their faith and came naturally after participating in their children’s school events.
“We got pretty good at bake sales,” Pete said. “And soon it was, ‘Oh hey, can you do a bake sale for this or that event.’”
They were drawn to the Salvation Army, because the money they help raise stays in the community.
“We were both very fortunate in our job environments,” Mary said. “We’ve never had to go hungry ourselves, but we see it happening in our community, and this is something we can do to help.”
Orthwein said he organizes up to 400 volunteer hours among about 80 volunteers each year. While the bell-ringing season can vary based on the availability of volunteers and participation of local businesses, he said volunteers started ringing in El Jebel on Thanksgiving weekend this year and will continue ringing until New Year’s Day.
“I’ve been doing this for about 12 years, and it’s an amazing experience,” Orthwein said.
Volunteering began as part of his participation in the 12-step program to break his addiction to alcohol, but during the journey, Orthwein said he re-discovered Christianity and a love for serving others.
“At first I did this as a service requirement, but somewhere along the way,” he said, “it became part of who I am.”
As an organizer, Orthwein said he has lots of stories about the people who take up the bell. Peggy Powers, a wheelchair-bound resident of Heritage Park Assisted Living, calls him every year at the beginning of November to ensure she can get on the volunteer list, Orthwein said.
Frankie White sings Christmas carols for two hours straight while ringing.
“He makes up words to the carols he doesn’t know,” Orthwein explained emphatically. “It’s one of the most hilarious things I’ve seen. He could be a showstopper at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.”
But the thing that keeps Orthwein coming back every year is the donors.
“The only thing more beautiful than our mountains is the size of the people’s hearts throughout the valley,” he said.
Reporter Ike Fredregill can be reached at 970-384-9154 or by email at email@example.com.
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