Bell ringers back

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Puerto Seguro-Safe Harbor’s annual Christmas fundraising campaign started a few weeks earlier this year than the usual Dec. 15 kickoff day in hopes of capturing some Black Friday magic.

The local homeless shelter partners with The Salvation Army every Christmas season with local volunteers ringing bells to encourage shoppers to drop some cash into the red kettle, said Puerto Seguro-Safe Harbor treasurer Bill Bottorf.

Bottorf has been the mastermind behind the bell ringing campaign for the past three years, teaming up this year with fellow volunteer Francie Durand.

Bottorf said the shelter’s board of directors were searching for ways to encourage donations and thought the iconic red kettles and bell ringers would be a great idea. The Salvation Army approved of Puerto Seguro’s efforts to help the homeless and needy, and the rest, as they say, is history.

“We formed a partnership with The Salvation Army,” he said. “The bell ringing is a great source for donations here.”

The Salvation Army provides the red kettles and bells and acts as the fiscal agent for the shelter’s Christmas donation campaign.

“Everything we collect must be given to The Salvation Army and deposited in their bank account, and then we submit receipts which they reimburse for the full amount.

“Last year’s bell ringing brought in over $2,500,” he said. “It’s a vital event for Puerto Seguro. This is a really big deal. We don’t get many donations this big.”

Normally, the bell ringing campaign starts Dec. 15, but the Salvation Army recommended trying Black Friday, traditionally a big day for their donations nationally.

Bottorf hasn’t counted the money yet, but he is pleased with the results.

“The cash bag is pretty heavy,” he said.

Durand came up with the idea to have bell ringers out at Smith’s and Walmart this coming Saturday and Sunday as well.

“Dec. 1 is a payday, and we hope it will also be a big donation day,” he said.

“We will have bell ringers at Smith’s in the morning, and Walmart in the afternoon,” he said, adding that the hours reflect the volunteers’ need to stay warm in the sunshine.

“It’s hard to ask people to stand in the shade,” he said.

Then the campaign will take a break, resuming Dec. 15 and continuing every day through Christmas Eve, depending on the number of volunteers Bottorf can enlist.

“We need volunteers,” he said. “The shifts are one to two hours long during normal shopping hours, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.”

Bottorf will have kettles at the city post office and all three supermarkets in town.

On Dec. 17, the Socorro Community Orchestra has volunteered to serenade shoppers at Walmart during the afternoon, barring inclement weather.

“The orchestra is going to split up into duets and trios, so you will hear a variety of music if you stick around,” he said. “People are encouraged to throw in a dollar every 15 minutes!”

Puerto Seguro-Safe Harbor is the official name for Socorro’s shelter for the homeless and needy. The shelter is located next to the railroad tracks on California Street on the south end of town.

The shelter is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Bottorf said everyone who shows up will be served a free meal. Free showers and laundry services are also available at the shelter, as well as a clothing bank. Needy homeless people will be outfitted with warm sleeping bags, tents and hiking boots.

The homeless are not the only Puerto Seguro clients. Local families facing hardship visit the shelter for meals and help finding ways to pay overdue bills. The shelter provides limited emergency funds, but is not in a position to support people or find them jobs.

“At Puerto Seguro, we counsel people about services that are available to help low income people with their rent and utilities,” Bottorf said. “We try to refer them to people who want to hire someone for temporary jobs, like chopping and stacking wood or cleaning yards, but we are not an employment agency.

“We are in a crisis mode right now,” he said. “The Coop has an arrangement if your electric bill is up to date currently, they will put a freeze on your account, and they won’t shut off your power until March. We have had a lot of people trying to pay off their electric bills.”

All of these efforts depend on funds generated by the Christmas bell ringing campaign, and Bottorf is hoping to enlist an army of volunteer bell ringers.

“I will be contacting all the service groups to get volunteers to help with the bell ringing, starting Dec. 15,” he said.

Volunteers can pick their times, days, and their locations — Smith’s, Supermart, Walmart or the city post office on the plaza. Chairs will be provided.

For more information, call Bottorf at 838-4553 or Durand at 575-418-0492.