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Salvation Army bell ringer helps break record for donations

Jacob Duncan, 8, of Duluth drops money into the Salvation Army donation bucket outside the exit of Sam's Club on Saturday afternoon and gets a thank you from Jaime Walsh (left), who's accompanied by his wife Diane. Walsh has been a bellringer for the Salvation Army for 15 years. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com1 / 3
A shopper pushes folded bills into the Salvation Army bucket at Sam's Club on Saturday. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com2 / 3
A hex nut serves as the clapper in the bell Jaime Walsh rings for Salvation Army donations. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com3 / 3

It was one of those cold dreary November days.

The sky was painted with a dull gray over the Hermantown Sam's Club. The rain falling sideways only added to what had drenched the area the night before. With a chill in the air, shoppers spent very little time lingering outside.

Except for Jaime Walsh. Ask him how he felt after braving four cold hours in those same conditions, the Salvation Army bell ringer would tell you he couldn't be happier.

"It's addictive," Walsh said. "It does make my season and I'll say that over and over again."

Walsh said it's usually Jingle Bells playing in his head when he's tolling. Hopping from one foot to the other and trying to stay warm, he said it's easy to brave the fall and winter winds of the Northland when so many people are willing to donate.

"The people are really, really generous in Duluth. Unbelievably," he said.

Walsh's inspiration to start bell ringing more than 15 years ago came from his father. Calling him "a real human," Walsh said watching how charitable his dad was meant he had no excuse to try and commit to being as helpful as he could.

He started out putting in a few two-hour shifts a season. However, the chain that tied him to the Salvation Army sign with its red hanging bucket grew particularly strong when he sought out ways to get more people involved.

"I tried to get other organizations like the Moose (Loyal Order of Moose) and the Elk (Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks) involved, but it never really stuck," he said, "until about four years ago with the Holy Cross and these people are just — there's just nobody that can touch us."

Jaime and his wife, Diane have ignited a competitive spirit in their bell ringing. Not just between each other, but between their church and others organizations trying to raise money.

When Jaime galvanized members of the Holy Cross Lutheran Church to join him in his charitable conquest, it took three ringing seasons before its members would ascend to Red Kettle Challenge winners. The last three years, they have taken first place among participating organizations, including last year when they put in 240 hours and raised $12,395.26.

That was a Salvation Army record.

"It's amazing. And we go ahead and I talked about how we got the $12,000, well this year I'm going to be really bummed out if we don't get to ($15,000)," said Jaime Walsh.

That total rarely amasses from bills with big numbers on them. Instead, they come from the incremental drop of a quarter or folded up dollar bill. Occasionally they'll see more money come the closer to Christmas, with the giving spirit beating out any cold-weather impediment that would hinder someone reaching for their wallet.

Jaime personally commits between 50 and 60 hours to that goal. His wife does even more.

"You go home thinking, 'you know, I think this is what life's about,'" said Diane Walsh. "Just giving back and it's a great feeling when people through and say that the Salvation Army helped their family."

A particular memory that Jaime highlighted was when a man slipped $5 into the bucket before telling him he was homeless and the Salvation Army had helped him when times had gotten rough.

"I looked at him and just thought 'I should be giving you money, are you kidding me?'" said Jaime.

The earnings collected between the ringing season, which falls between Nov. 17 and Dec. 24, is sent to a variety of services. A flier totalling the 2017 statistics recorded the organization helping thousands of people, offering emergency assistance to 1,771 people, 22,455 meals in the hot lunch program, rapid rehousing to 218 people and christmas gifts to 2,383 children.