It's a quiet night at Logan Valley Mall near Santa's Workshop, except for the rumbling of the Christmas train and the unmistakable ringing of bells.
Cindy Glass of Altoona is nearing the end of her four-hour shift outside J.C. Penney ringing the bells for the Salvation Army Kettle Campaign.
A woman plops in some change as a few shoppers scurry past, not stopping.
Sue Forshey of Altoona takes donations for the Salvation Army outside Macy’s in the Logan Valley mall.
Money raised from the campaign not only buys gifts and food at Christmas for needy families, but it also helps with the Salvation Army's other missions throughout the year: providing assistance with rent, utilities, housing, clothing and emergency food.
Last year, $75,000 was raised, Salvation Army Capt. David Means said. The goal for 2010 is $80,000, which he said is doable
"We're well on our way to reach that," Means said. "It always blows my mind. We're supposed to be in an economic downturn, but the people are so generous."
Glass knows more than most people the importance of the kettle campaign.
Glass has been ringing the bells for the past 15 years, working for minimum wage. She needs the money, but she also believes in the cause. For years, Glass has gotten help from the Salvation Army with food, rent money and other needs.
"They helped me a lot. They helped me get a place," Glass said.
Calixto Melendez of Altoona is in a similar situation.
Melendez rings the bells six days a week outside the Altoona Walmart.
"I feel like I'm helping others that was in my situation, and I like to see the kids smile," Melendez said, as he cheerfully handed his bell to a little girl to ring. "It's the season of people helping one another."
The Salvation Army also helped Melendez financially, and he feels indebted.
"I was not doing good myself. They helped me financially and helped me pay bills. I'm thankful for the Salvation Army. They do an awful lot," Melendez said.
Bell ringers, like Glass and Melendez, are important parts of the kettle campaign.
The Salvation Army would like all bell ringers to be volunteers, but there are not enough volunteers to man the 10 kettle stations, so there are about 10 paid bell ringers, Means said. Business groups, school groups, church groups, as well as individual volunteers help, but there are not enough to cover all the locations and shifts.
"Our goal is to become strictly voluntary," Means said. "It becomes a necessity to pay people because we need people every day."
But paying people also helps people like Glass and Melendez earn some money around the holidays. The paid workers are screened and undergo brief training.
"Pleasant attitude and neat appearance are a must. They need to just be cheerful, and we tell them to say 'Merry Christmas, God bless you and Thank you,'" Means said.
Volunteers, on the other hand, are usually not trained because there are so many different groups, and the volunteers are usually naturally cheerful and eager to help for charitable reasons.
Kay Winkler of Altoona is one of those volunteers.
She was recruited through the company where she worked, Communications Workers of America. After retiring three years ago, Winkler decided she has more time to volunteer.
"I do it to give back, pay it forward," Winkler said.
She rings the bells for an hour once a week outside Kmart on West Plank Road. On a recent afternoon, Winkler didn't seem bothered by the rain or the chill in the air.
"It's cold, but you dress for it. I just love the cause," Winkler said.
Though most people will at least drop a few coins into the kettle, Winkler said there are some people who just avoid eye contact so they don't have to donate.
"Most people are willing to give," Winkler added.
During the Christmas season, Winkler said it's important to remember how fortunate we are and that we should help a good organization like the Salvation Army.
"I just love that it helps a diversified group. It's not just helping children with diseases or helping the elderly or homeless. It runs the gamut of helping," Winkler said.
Every penny helps the Salvation Army's efforts, Means said.
"Everything is appreciated. We don't want to say just give a dollar or five dollars," Means said.