My Christmas Miracle

A prominent philanthropist volunteers to be a Salvation Army bell ringer.

By staff April 24, 2014

By Dottie Baer Garner

I was having lunch last November with a friend who is director of development for the Salvation Army and she mentioned their bell ringing project.

“Does everybody who does that have to wear the Salvation Army uniform?” I asked. “Oh, no—just a red apron,” she said. “I’ll do it!” I said.

She was shocked, because she had associated my volunteer work with more glamorous endeavors, like charity luncheons and board meetings. And maybe she wondered if at 80, I’d have the stamina to really follow through.

I was a little surprised myself, but I decided I would do the very best job I possibly could. My husband, Bob, and I have supported many causes and gained wonderful friends during our years in Sarasota. So I know plenty of generous people. When I was assigned a time and place, I immediately emailed lots of my friends asking them to come by and put a dollar or so in my kettle to help less fortunate families have a nice holiday.

I believed that quite a few would respond, but nothing prepared me for the actual fact.

Almost as soon as I took my place at the foot of the escalator at Publix on Bay Street, friends began arriving, with big smiles on their faces and generous checks in their hands. Many strangers approached me, too, putting coins and bills into my kettle. One person gave me $100. Towards the end of my two-hour stint, I was starting to feel a little tired from standing on my feet. Then a shy-looking young woman approached and dropped in a quarter. “The Salvation Army helped me when I was homeless,” she said. “I can’t pass up this chance to give them a little back.” My fatigue vanished instantly, and I thanked her with all my heart.

I have served on 11 boards of directors, chaired luncheons, galas and a successful building campaign, but no philanthropic endeavor has meant more to me than ringing that bell. I raised $1,352.88 during those two hours—something of a Salvation Army record. I’m proud about that, but what made me even prouder was seeing Sarasotans from every walk of life reach into their hearts and pocketbooks to help our neighbors in need.

Dottie Baer Garner supports many local causes.

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