The distinct sound of bells rings through the air when you walk toward a Salvation Army Red Kettle volunteer. The holiday tradition dates all the way back to 1891, when an Army captain was determined to provide Christmas dinner for impoverished people in San Francisco.
More than a century later, the red kettle tradition continues across the country, and volunteers in Philly have been out since before Thanksgiving ringing their bells at some of the most foot-trafficked spots in the city.
Some passersby throw spare change into the buckets, and others look away. But the faces of the people ringing the bells remain constant.
Get to know some of the people behind the aprons this year:
James Parker, who has been volunteering for three years, is the owner of a store on North Fifth Street in Olney.
Herbert Brown has been a bell ringer for three years. He’s volunteering this year while currently out of work.
Susan Lockwood is retired, and has been volunteering as a Salvation Army bell ringer for 28 years.
Renee Edwards, 51, has been ringing bells for Salvation Army for three years. She’s volunteering while currently out of work on disability.
This is Kenny Roach’s first year volunteering with Salvation Army in Philadelphia, but he rang bells in Harrisburg for five years prior. When he’s not volunteering, he’s a cook at a restaurant.
Elijah Sowen has been volunteering with the Salvation Army for two years and works at the Philadelphia International Airport when not ringing bells.
Luther Howard, who has been volunteering for three years, used to also volunteer at a nursing home in New Jersey, but is currently on disability benefits.
David, who chose not to give his last name, was out ringing bells for the first time on Nov. 30. He is currently in between jobs.
Tawanna Lovett has been volunteering as a bell ringer for two years. Her day job focuses on helping veterans.
Tracy Boyer has worked as a bell ringer for five years. During the summer she works for the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Play Streets program. Throughout the year, she helps feed the “less fortunate” at 18th and Susquehanna streets on Tuesdays and Fridays except in December.
Jerome Hamilton has been collecting red kettle donations for the past three years. The weather can be a little rough, he said. But Hamilton, who is retired, still chooses to brave the cold for the Salvation Army in his free time.
Dawn Acero has been working for the Salvation Army— collecting donations and answering phones— for about 15 years. For Acero, who’s currently on disability, working for the Salvation Army is a way of giving back after experiencing poverty herself.