BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – There’s a reason that smiling Salvation Army bell-ringer looks a little stiff this Christmas season, and it’s not the cold weather.
Banned from Target stores and faced with a shortage of holiday volunteers, the Salvation Army is using scores of animated, cardboard bell-ringers on a test basis to staff its red donation kettles in stores across the South.
Equipped with motion sensors, each corrugated cutout has a battery-operated, motorized arm that waves a silent cardboard bell. Anyone who draws near hears a loud, jingling sound from a speaker and a cheery “Merry Christmas, God bless you.”
The cutouts, which bear the image of a uniformed Salvation Army officer, are being used at 200 Books-A-Million and Hibbett Sporting Goods stores in 14 states. The kettles are kept inside the stores to ward off theft, and volunteers gather up the donations every three days.
The idea came from Charles Anderson, chairman of Anderson Media Co., the parent company of Birmingham-based Books-A-Million, which paid for the cutouts. Anderson is also a member of Salvation Army’s advisory board.
“It’s a fun approach,” said Mark Brown, the charity’s Birmingham-area commander. “Even as we were assembling them people were coming up and saying, ‘Let me put some money in your kettle.’”
Target this year banned Salvation Army bell ringers from its stores after years of exempting the charity from its blanket policy against solicitation. The chain was the charity’s second-largest collection point last year, accounting for 10 percent of the almost $94 million raised nationwide.