'Tis the season for the rhythmic clanging of a Salvation Army bell that means opportunity for some and hope for all.
Beginning Friday, volunteers of all ages and from all walks of life will be collecting donations for the Salvation Army in front of Kmart and City Market with the goal of beating last year's total of nearly $4,500. The campaign will be every Saturday and Sunday for four weeks.
Ninety percent of the money collected is used for crisis support and emergency assistance in Moffat County, with 10 percent going to the Denver Chapter, where it is used for the same purposes.
The Salvation Army is run solely by volunteers. None of the money collected goes toward administration costs.
And it's a huge volunteer effort. In Craig alone, nearly 80 people will take a shift ringing the bell.
"It's amazing to watch people in the community and see how willing they are to give," said Laura Willems.
She and her 10-year-old son, Justin, have volunteered to ring the bell for the past five years.
"It's a good experience for both of us," Willems said. "He likes to ring the bell and feel special because people talk to him."
Willems also works for the Moffat County Department of Social Services and helps distribute the funds collected.
There are no income guidelines for distributing the money, it is based solely on need. It's used to help needy travelers passing through Moffat County who may have car trouble or no gas. It's used to alleviate short-term emergencies -- such as a looming electric bill that can't be paid. It's used to help families get by after a disaster such as a house fire to cover expenses not covered by the Red Cross.
The money is distributed through social services in the form of vouchers.
Salvation Army money is last-resort, emergency funding that is only available to any one person once in a 12-month period. There is a $100 cap.
"One of the things we look at is have they done everything they can do," Willems said. "We don't want to create a dependency. We don't want to push the problem into a different month."
Thirty-two people have been assisted by Salvation Army funds so far this year.
In 2002, the $4,200 that was collected wasn't enough to serve the needs for the full year.
Willems said volunteering to collect money for the Salvation Army is a great experience and she encourages people to contribute their time.
"I've noticed teens are the quickest to put money in," she said. "It's really rewarding to see that."
For volunteer LuAnn Kline, part of the reward is seeing small children run up and throw pennies into the pot.
"I don't think they have a clue what they're doing, but they know they're helping," she said.
Kline has been a Salvation Army bell ringer for about seven years and this year is in charge of organizing volunteers.
When she rings the bell, she takes her daughter, now 17.
"People are always cheerful," she said.
She tells the story of an older man who was upset because he didn't have money to donate when he came to a collection point. He said he'd return and did with a check in hand.
"It seemed really important for him to go and bring money back. I thought that was really neat," Kline said.
Some people avoid eye contact with the bell ringers, others contribute with a smile and still others just stop to talk to the bell ringers.
Willems said there's no pressure to contribute.
"If they can, they will. If they can't, they won't," she said.