From Bells to Sax

Young volunteers give bell-ringers creative push

Jared David Martin, left, Blount County Salvation Army Corps planter, rings a traditional Salvation Army bell while and Patrick Finney, a Maryville College senior, plays his saxophone to attract attention and donations during the annual holiday fundraiser.

Photo by Jolanda Jansma

Jared David Martin, left, Blount County Salvation Army Corps planter, rings a traditional Salvation Army bell while and Patrick Finney, a Maryville College senior, plays his saxophone to attract attention and donations during the annual holiday fundraiser.

Laura Parkins and Matthew Neal, Heritage High School seniors, say they always try to look dressed up and professional when they go out to ring a Salvation Army bell.

Photo by Jolanda Jansma

Laura Parkins and Matthew Neal, Heritage High School seniors, say they always try to look dressed up and professional when they go out to ring a Salvation Army bell.

Patrick Finney has taken the familiar Salvation Army bell-ringing to a whole new dimension. The sounds you hear when Patrick, a 21-year-old Maryville College student, works by the red kettle isn’t the tinkling of the Salvation Army bell, but the soulful sound of the saxophone.

It’s working.

Jared David Martin, the Salvation Army Corps “planter” in Blount County says Patrick is tops in getting donations so far this year.

“Patrick Finney has been taking his saxophone and guitar and playing in front of different stores, and he is raising more money than every single bell ringer in the region - Knox, Blount and Sevier counties, as well as in Oak Ridge,” Martin said.

“I met Patrick at Intervarsity Christian Fellowship at the college when I volunteer,” said Martin. Finney, a senior who is studying music theory composition, was born in Atlanta and moved to Blount County in eighth grade. He graduated from Maryville High School in 2007.

Finney said he met Martin in the spring and felt led spiritually to help him start Mercy Chapel church in Maryville at the Everett Gym, and now he leads worship. “I’ve been doing that a while,” said Finney. “Since then, I’ve been feeling more led to leadership in the church, and I wanted to help out the Salvation Army as much as I could,” he said. “I asked if I could play my sax rather than ring the bell. I figured I’d raise more money, and I have raised a lot more money playing my sax and my guitar and singing. I guess it was just God leading me to the church and then into a close friendship with Jared.”

Finney said he has been playing saxophone since the sixth grade, guitar since the seventh grade, and he’s been singing since the ninth grade. “I’m not a professional singer, I just enjoy it. I haven’t taken voice lessons, but I was in choir a couple semesters,” he said.

Finney said most folks respond “very positively” to him when he plays the saxophone or guitar.

“Most folks give me a thumbs up or say, ‘That’s way better than the bell,’ and they’re just encouraging toward me,” he said. “If they have small children, they’ll let the kids watch. Some are so young, they’ve never seen a saxophone. That’s generally what happens.”

But even at Christmas, there is always a Grinch.

“I’ve had a couple people who reacted very negatively because they were trying to hear on their cell phones,” said Finney. “One lady, she was trying to check her voice mail and I didn’t realize it or I could’ve played my saxophone quieter,” he said. “She was in the parking lot of Alcoa Kroger, and she yelled at me, ‘I can’t hear my voice mail.’ I didn’t mean to upset her.”

Finney said another person, a grumpy man walking out of the Alcoa Wal-Mart, didn’t like the saxophone music much either. “I guess he was just negative and wasn’t happy. He was walking out of Wal-Mart and told me to go home,” Finney said.

Finney said what motives him is a spiritual sense that God calls people to serve the poor. “The Salvation Army is one of the best organizations around for doing that. I guess it is just a response to God would be my biggest motivation,” he said. “In all honesty, this is probably what I want to do when I get out of school, work with the poor in some level.”

Finney said he enjoys playing music but he also enjoys interacting with those going about their Christmas shopping. “It’s a mix between playing the saxophone and getting to interact with the shoppers. I love playing it, and it’s cool to do all day, but I guess I really like talking to people,” he said.

Young ringers lead the way

Blount County has been blessed with creative bell ringers, said Martin.

Two other bell ringers, Heritage High School seniors Matthew Neal, 18, and Laura Parkins, 17, dress up and try interacting with the shoppers to encourage them to give to the Salvation Army.

“Laura’s mom, Kathi Parkins, is director of Family Promise, and I know her through United Way,” said Martin. “When her mom knew we were organizing a bell ringer campaign, Laura came to volunteer and brought her friend Matthew. Matthew Neal is a Eagle Scout, and they came up with the idea of really dressing professionally for their bell ringing time.”

Neal said this is the first year he’s ever worked with Salvation Army. “One of my friends said they had an opening and needed help, and I knew what a great opportunity it was and I thought I would help if I could,” he said. “I wear a full suit with a Santa hat. I want to look neat and give off the best appearance I can. You can interact with more people when you look more professional and are more approachable.”

Parkins said she enjoys helping the less fortunate. “I know my life is really good,” she said. “My mom works with homeless people, and I’ve gotten see how they live. I feel I need to help people.”

“I usually ring the bell and tell folks Merry Christmas,” Neal said. “I had one lady describe me as being jolly.”

Parkins said she also feels a need to give back to the community, and Neal said taking an opportunity to help people in need during the holidays is a big motivator. “I know how fortunate I am and know I can help people have a better Christmas,” he said. “It makes me feel better knowing I can help or try to help.”

Neal and Parkins said they enjoy talking with shoppers going in and out of the stores where they ring bells during the Kettle Campaign.

“They smile and say, ‘Thank you,’ and ‘God bless you.’ You never know what they’ll say,” Neal said. “It makes your day.”

Even the grumblers seem to try to be nicer at Christmas, Neal said. “I’ve heard people say the bell is annoying, but they say it in a nice way.”

Whether it’s in a suit, with a saxophone or just braving the elements in a heavy coat and warm smile, the efforts of the bell ringers hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“We have more bell ringers than ever before, and it has been wonderful,” said Martin. “A few churches have volunteered to do it and are making a big difference in their first time as volunteers. Calvary Chapel and Maryville Alcoa Church of God have participated. Fairview United Methodist Church is sending their youth choir. Alcoa First United Methodist Church and Alcoa First Baptist serve as bell ringers on a regular basis.”

Martin said there are 16 bell ringer kettle locations in Blount County. “We have several more sites this year than ever before - like Old Navy and Food City. There are two Food City locations that have joined and Hobby Lobby is new, too,” he said. “Those managers have been instrumental in helping us.”

In addition to the annual Kettle Campaign, Martin said the Salvation Army in Blount County is also sponsoring an Angel Tree to ensure needy children and their families have a good Christmas. “The need is greater this year. Angel Tree is a major deal. Last year we signed 80 kids up for that, and this year we signed up 120,” he said. “There are a lot more people who are asking for assistance and really need it. We need all that much more from donors to help support what we’re doing. People are having a rough time in this recession,” Martin said.

The Army in Blount

Martin and his wife, Rachel, moved to Blount County in March when he took the job as Corps planter here in Blount County. The couple has two children, their 3-year-old daughter, Anna, and 1-year-old son, Judah.

“We’re brand new to the area,” Martin said. “I’ve worked for Salvation Army 10 years but this is the first time I’ve done this position.”

Martin said a Corps planter begins a center for service and worship where there wasn’t one. “The Salvation Army has been in Blount County a while. There was a regular social services center here a number of years ago, from 1994 to 1996, and they closed that down. It was a part-time social services office,” he said. “They kept the thrift store and did all social services from Knoxville office. Just recently we’ve come back to Blount.”

The Salvation Army thrift store has been on East Broadway Avenue near what is now the Five Points Roundabout for 20 years. “That is an excellent location, a lot of donations come through there, and we help a lot of people,” Martin said. “Now that we are living here, our goal is to dramatically increase social services offered in Blount County.”

Martin said the plan is in January to begin slowly offering more social services to Blount County residents so they don’t have to go to Knoxville. So this year, more of the funds raised in the Kettle Campaigns in Blount County will stay in the county, he said.

“The fundraising in our county is geared toward helping people in our county. The biggest thing we’re doing with our fundraising this year is working on opening a social services office here,” he said.

Martin said the Salvation Army has been doing clothing assistance, with an emphasis on helping people who are searching for jobs and need good interview clothes.

“Also, there have been people who have lost their housing quickly and didn’t have everything they needed. We give to people in need, mostly to people in violent situations who escaped that, and then we give to people who are job seeking,” he said. “There were particularly two families who didn’t have enough for Christmas, and we’ve been able assist them.”

Martin said they’ve been able to do lot with donations. “But we’re going to be able to do a whole lot more this spring,” he said.

Martin said with the tough economy, there’s been a change and more of a concern to have a Salvation Army presence in this area.

“We’ll use all the money we raise in the Kettle Campaign and funnel as much as possible into emergency assistance to people in Blount County,” he said. “Right now we’re primarily giving clothing assistance. How much we can do is dependent on how much we raise from the Kettle Campaign as well as from funds obtained from United Way, FEMA and HUD.”

Martin said emergency services can include utility assistance but that those are bigger ticket items. “We don’t know if we’ll be able to do that right way. But we think we’ll be able to do things like fuel assistance,” he said.

The social services office is currently in the thrift store. “But there is the possibility we’ll be able to lease another location in the future,” he said.

Martin said The Salvation Army is a Christian organization. “Half of what we do is social services, but we also have a new church we have started,” he said. The church is called Mercy Chapel and it is at Everett Recreation Center.

“It is a church motivated to serve people and act with compassion.”

Martin said new congregation is supported by a grant as well as tithes and not with money from the Kettle Campaign. “The Kettle Campaign goes to support social services,” he said.

Salvation Army Kettle locations include the Maryville Wal-Mart, who allowed them to start ringing on Nov. 16 rather than on the nationally agreed date of Nov. 26; Alcoa Wal-Mart, Kroger on Watkins Road, Kroger on Hall Road, JC Penny, Belk and Sears at Foothills Mall. New locations this year include Old Navy at Hamilton Crossing off Louisville Road, Hobby Lobby on Foothills Plaza Drive, Food City on West Broadway Avenue and Food City on Hall Road.

Martin said that in 2009, the Salvation Army raised $46,070.02 in Blount County. “At our last count on Dec. 8, we had already raised $36,810.31, giving us a $10,000 lead from that day last year,” he said. “We hope to raise about $60,000 by Christmas Eve. Every dollar is another prayer answered in the war against poverty.”

Volunteer coordinator is Yvonne Yates. She can be reached at 865-971-4907 or go to

Donations are accepted at all bell ringer locations listed above.

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