Teen helps spread Christmas cheer

Published 10:42 am Saturday, December 19, 2009

FRANKLIN—Salvation Army bell ringers Asa Johnson and Frank Rabil didn’t know what to say when 16-year-old Merle Galtress walked up to them outside of Wal-Mart last weekend and handed them a large bottle of coins.

The donation, which she had been saving for more than a year, added up to about $120.

“You have people come up and drop a dollar or a few pennies in the kettle, but you don’t have people walk up there and give you a jar full of money,” said Johnson, a Union Camp Corp. retiree and member of the Franklin Rotary Club. “It was a very pleasant surprise, and she’s a mighty fine young lady to even think about doing something like that.”

Johnson and Rabil were so impressed with Merle’s donation that they took down her name and address and gave it to Mac Coker, who coordinates the Rotary Club’s annual bell-ringing effort. Coker in turn arranged for her to personally give her donation to a Salvation Army representative.

Maj. Cal Clatterbuck of the Suffolk Salvation Army office, which serves Western Tidewater, accepted Merle’s donation at Rotary’s annual Christmas program Friday afternoon.

“She didn’t want any publicity; she just walked up to a kettle to give. She didn’t expect any of this,” Clatterbuck said.

“No, I didn’t,” added Merle, a sophomore at Southampton High School who aspires to obtain a degree in early-childhood education and one day own a day-care center.

The daughter of Mr. and Mrs. William Galtress of Zuni said she had been collecting spare change to donate to a charity for a while.

“I had started collecting to give; I just didn’t know I was going to give it to the Salvation Army until I saw them out last year,” she said.

She was impressed by the way the organization helps needy children — especially during the Christmas season.

Clatterbuck said Merle’s donation is noteworthy, especially because requests for assistance are up more than 33 percent this year. At the same time, financial donations are down more than 17 percent.

“This will help someone keep a light on, keep heat in their house or keep food on the table,” Clatterbuck told Merle. “You have created joy in someone’s life.”

The Salvation Army has helped more than 5,000 children in Western Tidewater so far this season, Clatterbuck said.

“It’s fantastic,” he said of Merle’s donation. “It warms the heart.”