Rotary bell ringers will be out in full force

Published 9:53 am Friday, December 14, 2012

by Gaynelle Riddick

Each year as Christmas approaches, you will hear the bells ringing on busy street corners throughout the country.

For almost 50 years, members of the Franklin Rotary Club have stood for two-hour shifts on two Saturdays in December to give shoppers the opportunity to drop money into the bucket to help the Salvation Army provide food, clothing and toys to the less fortunate.

Spearheading this worthwhile project for the past 26 years is Mac Coker, who grew up in Franklin and is retired from Union Camp Corp.

It is Coker’s responsibility to make sure that a total of 24 Rotarians volunteer and are on duty for their chosen shift.

When asked about donors he has remembered, Coker recalls a lady who told him that the first toy she ever received was from the Salvation Army.

Another memorable contribution was from a man wearing a Virginia Tech cap who said that he would contribute $20 if Coker could tell him who was the most famous running back in Tech’s history. This UVA graduate immediately answered with the name of Cyrus Lawrence, a Southampton High School star, and for that correct answer, the Salvation Army was $20 richer.

Not many people give $20. Mostly, it is a dollar here, some pocket change and an occasional check.

Two years ago, a young girl brought a bag full of change, which she had collected throughout the year and gave it all to this cause. The Rotary Club had her as its guest for a meeting and The Tidewater News told her heart-warming story.

Having begun this project in 1966, Rotarians have rung the bell from many locations throughout Franklin. Years ago before shopping centers, they stood on the street corner at Main and Second Avenue, at the busy supermarkets and department stores.

Standing in front of the ABC store sometimes prevented some customers from coming in for fear of being seen visiting this popular business.

Since 2009, bell ringers have been at the Walmart entrances because they cannot set up inside the building. Many are the times they have endured bitter cold temperatures, rain and even snow to fulfill their obligation to this worthy project. All are volunteers.

The Salvation Army headquartered in Suffolk brings the buckets and bells at the appointed time and returns at 5 p.m. each day to handle the donations.

Since Coker started keeping records in 1985, more than $52,000 has been collected averaging more than $2000 per year.

The year 2011 set the record for the most money given, and 1999, the year of the flood, came in second.

Not only do the Rotarians ring the bell, they are very generous donors to this worthwhile project.

With parents teaching their children to give, with those who hear the bells year after year, with those who sense the true spirit of the season, much money has been given to the Salvation Army across the nation to help where need is greatest, not only at Christmastime but throughout the year when hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and fires destroy property and desecrate lives of those in the paths of these natural disasters.

GAYNELLE RIDDICK is a member of the Franklin Rotary Club and can be reached at