Joshua Shaneyfelt doesn’t think he’s Santa Claus, but he’s admittedly a pretty good helper.
The 34-year-old Florence resident can be found most days outside Kmart in Florence ringing a bell and wishing every passerby God’s blessings and a merry Christmas.
For Shaneyfelt, manning the red kettle and collecting money for those in need is about as close to being Santa as he can get.
“I don’t have kids of my own, but I love being out here and seeing how excited these kids are about Christmas and Santa,” he said. “I love it when they see this kettle and ask their parents for money to go in it. That tells me they have good, kind hearts. And I always give them a big thank you and remind them to be good so Santa will come see them.”
Shaneyfelt, who was unemployed for several months before becoming a bell ringer, said he believes the job was a calling from God.
“I’m making an impact on kids’ lives because the money we generate through these kettles goes right to the families in this area who are in need,” he said. “I can’t stand the thought of little children not having toys for Christmas, and what I’m doing out here is making sure that doesn’t happen.”
The shifts at his kettle are seven or eight hours per day. Shaneyfelt said he gets his share of people asking why he does it.
“They think I must be paid a lot to stand out in the weather and ring this bell, but to me, the pay’s just a bonus,” he said. “This is about helping families in need, and God put me here for this.”
Shaneyfelt said he’s met an array of people while working as a bell ringer and has decided that Kmart shoppers are some of the nicest, most generous people.
“I was out here ringing my bell one day and a man walked up and put a $500 check in the kettle,” he said. “I’m not a competitive person but when you get donations like that, you can pretty much figure you got the biggest kettle of the day.”
He recalled another kettle contributor who initiated conversation by asking him if he enjoyed ringing the bell.
“I told her yes, and explained what I love about it and she gave a $20 bill,” he said. “She said she’d started out going to the mall but changed her mind and came to Kmart instead and was glad she did.”
The Salvation Army depends on volunteers from the community to make up the majority of the belling ringing labor force, but must hire individuals to cover all shifts at all kettle locations. The kettles will be out through Dec. 24.
Salvation Army Major Donald Wilson said bell ringers such as Shaneyfelt represent the kind of employees the Salvation Army wants greeting the public.
“He’s energetic and enthusiastic about it, and when you have that combination in a bell ringer, people respond positively,” Wilson said.
The goal for the kettles this year is $90,000.
Shaneyfelt said that when his bell-ringing job ends, he’ll be back in the hunt for employment.
“I’m just hoping to find something I enjoy like I do bell ringing and can be part of a team,” he said.
“I’d be thrilled to find a job where I can continue making an impact on people’s lives.”
Lisa Singleton-Rickman can be reached at 256-740-5735 or lisa.singleton-rickman@TimesDaily.com.
To contribute to the 38th Empty Table Fund, send donations by check or cash to the TimesDaily, c/o Controller, P.O. Box 797, Florence, AL 35631. All proceeds go to the Salvation Army to help fund Christmas assistance programs and to help local people in need.