By Jack Gurner
WATER VALLEY – The Salvation Army will have troops on the ground in the city again this Christmas season thanks to a dedicated group of local volunteers led by Wilbur Herring.
The retired businessman started ringing the well-known bell last year and raised over $3,000 for the organization’s charitable work.
Among his volunteer helpers were Linda Ingram, Julia Taylor, Donna Ragon, Bobby Singleton, and Austin McCluskey. New this year are Melissa Burrell, Vicky Vance, Gabe Edwards, and the WVHS Beta Club. “I hope I haven’t left anybody out,” he added.
Although he is new to the fundraising side, Herring has known about the Salvation Army ever since World War II when his five brothers served in the military. “They all came home telling stories about how great an organization it was.”
“I’ve never heard a bad story about them from anybody,” he added.
Herring became interested in the Salvation Army again when he heard they had given Christmas presents to the children in a Water Valley family. “They gave them bicycles and other gifts.”
He found out that Water Valley native Lisa Morris Coleman, who works for the Salvation Army in Oxford, had been looking for someone to work in Water Valley for two or three months. So, he agreed to help out.
“Soon as I volunteered she shoved the bucket at me…kettle they call it,” Herring said. “We packed so much money into it they said they never thought they were going to quit getting money out. Had five or six hundred dollars in it. That’s a lot of one-dollar bills.”
The Water Valley volunteers collected so much they got a promotion. “Had a little kettle last year, now we got a big kettle,” he said.
Their kettle is located inside the Larson’s Piggly Wiggly store on South Main Street. “He’s very, very diligent,” said Don Larson, store owner. “I expect him to do even better this year.”
When asked why the kettle wasn’t located outside by the front door as is the tradition, Herring noted, “It’s cold outside.”
The volunteers ring the bell in shifts. “We’re trying to break it up into two-hour increments so nobody gets overburdened.”
When someone puts money in the kettle Herring says, “God bless you.” “Sometimes they say ‘God bless you for doing this,’” he said. “The worse they do to me is ignore me when they go by.”
But, he doesn’t judge anyone for not giving. “They might not have any money on them or they might not be able to afford it. They are not obligated to do it at all.”
Herring wears a red hat and red apron when working the kettle unlike some bell ringers who dress up as Santa Claus. “I’m kinda scared to wear a Santa suit. I thought about doing that. But, I said, ‘No, I might mess up some kids.’ That and I don’t have a Santa suit.”