Charity Begins at K-Mart

By Daniel Kirk
Independence, Missouri, USA

Whenever I see a Salvation Army bell ringer, the volunteers who stand outside stores during the Christmas holidays to collect donations, I think of my dad.

When I was about ten, he and I went last-minute Christmas shopping one bitterly cold Michigan night. We saw a bell ringer in front of a store. Some people pretended not to see him. Some, looking guilty, dropped their loose change into his canister. Others smugly inserted dollar bills and collected their “God Bless You”s.

Charity begins at K-MartThe bell ringer was shivering, and icicles were beginning to form in his moustache. My dad went into the store and headed directly for the snack bar. He bought a cup of hot coffee and brought it out to the bell ringer.

Since that night, charity has never been an abstraction for me. It’s not about institutions, it’s just about noticing the people around you and helping out where you can.

Originally published as HeroicStories #5 on May 11, 1999

9 thoughts on “Charity Begins at K-Mart”

  1. Thank you – I believe we are here to care about one another —–and it is quite evident your father cared and illustrated that fact to you. We learn by what we observe. Aren’t you fortunate to have had such a good guy as your dad?

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  2. If everyone just helped the person in need closest to them, maybe we wouldn’t need the SA. Not that I’m better than anybody else…

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  3. It is ironic that this story appears this week. Not that it’s not timely, but because”For Better or For Worse” (re-running old cartoons) shows Elizabeth out shopping on a cold, blustery day passing a bell-ringing Santa. Elizabeth notices how cold he is, points it out to her mother and then they buy him a cup of hot chocolate and Elizabeth delivers it to the Santa. As they walk away everyone smiling, Elizabeth sagely says “I thought somebody should give Santa a present for a change.”

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  4. Having rung the bell myself with my young children, this is a great story. Sadly, there weren’t any bell ringers in our town this year. I miss them.

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  5. This story reminded me of the many great works the Salvation Army does, especially in time of disasters, natural and otherwise.
    The town I was born in, Springhill, Nova Scotia, was a coal mining town and had its share of mine disasters. The last major one happened in 1958 when an underground earth tremor, a “bump” killed 75 men and trapped several groups of men underground for many days. My dad worked above ground but was at the mine site continuously fomany days while rescue operations were underway. He told me of the tireless work of Salvation Army to bring food and comfort to all the people working at the mine and to the wives and children waiting and hoping for their loved ones still trapped.
    Fast forward to December, 1985 and Gander, Newfoundland where I was stationed with the Canadian military. A US Army charter flight crashed on takeoff killing all 256 persons on board. It happened at about 7:00 AM and rescue/recovery oeprations started immediately. The Canadian militray had the site cordoned off and people deployed to fight fires and attempt rescue withing a half hour. The Salvation Army deployed a canteen truck to provide coffee and donuts to the workers almost as fast as the military was deployed. Moreover, they were on site continously for the 3 and a half days that the operation lasted, even going to MacDonalds and getting hundreds of burgers to feed rescue workers on the first morning. Many of the Salvationists that manned their operation would work their regular job for the whole day and then spend the whole night working to help others.

    The Salvation Army does great work everywhere they go, caring for and feeding the poor and assisting in the welfare of people caught up in tragedy everywhere. I’, like many others do what I can to put some cash in a “Cheer” kettle or make donations on line to support their great work. I encourage others to do the same.

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  6. In Nov. 2013, I had to go to Backley, WV. I had never been there before and there is little transportation in the area. I needed to get to the airport in Charleston, WV so the only real option was the bus, which only runs once a day. I waited on the street for a few hours waiting for the bus. There was a younger woman waiting for the same bus and we talked a little and watched each other’s belongings. It was boring so occasionally one of us would leave and take a walk around the block to get some exercise and fight the cold windy weather. I took one walk and when I got back, there were two cups of a drink near my belongings. I saw a woman leave quickly and asked her what the cups were for. She said they were hot chocolate for the other woman and myself. Angels hide in small towns.

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  7. That’s one thing I really miss about my wife. She was good at spotting those in real need.
    One cold day we saw someone outside a Waffle House in a wheelchair. I was going to ignore him as just another pan-handler, but she went over and started talking. He said he had lived in a nearby motel, but got thrown out after someone stole his check. We took him in and bought him breakfast. Later, one of the waitresses brought a plate over and asked him if he wanted it. She said someone ordered it and then did not want it.

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