The holiday season is hectic enough for retailers, but Glynn Armitage, co-owner with his wife, Judy, of The Mole Hole on St. Armands Circle, brings it to a whole new level. For 15 years, he's commanded his own army of 70, all fellow members of the Sarasota Keys Rotary Club, to be bell ringers for the Salvation Army Red Kettle holiday campaign.
Of the nearly $41,000 raised by 400 Salvation Army volunteers in Sarasota County between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve last year, about one-third was raised by Armitage's red-aproned troops. They tirelessly ring bells for hundreds of hours in front of Scoop Daddy's on St. Armands. They bring their grandchildren, their dogs, an animated Santa doll or two. Whenever youngsters step up to put some coins in the bright red kettle, they get to ring the bell.
"We have all types of people coming up and thanking us," Armitage says. "Last year a young man came up who looked like he didn't have much in his pockets, but he managed to empty what he had. He told our bell ringer, 'I gotta give something because the Salvation Army was there when I needed them.' Then we have club members who give a couple of thousand dollars because they remember the Salvation Army was there for them when they were in the military in World War II."
Armitage and his fellow Rotarians are continuing a holiday tradition that began in 1891. Last year bell ringers nationwide raised more than $95 million.
"I feel very strongly about what the Salvation Army provides," says Armitage. "Their overhead is minimal, and almost all of what's raised goes back into the community to help people who can't help themselves. And it's actually pretty fun. The people who do it find out it's much more rewarding than just standing there ringing a bell."