Salvation Army bell ringer Daphne Rutz was wishing everyone a Merry Christmas when something unexpected happened.
"I had a lady turn on me and say, ‘You're not being politically correct,'" Rutz said. "I responded that I am a Christian, and as long as I am alive I'll wish people a Merry Christmas. Then, she threw her arms around me in a big hug and said, ‘God bless you.'"
Ringing the Salvation Army bell was an experience Rutz said would last a lifetime.
"This is the first time I did it, and I tell you it got me ready for the holidays," she said. "It put me in the spirit -- getting out there talking with people."
On Saturday Rutz brought her two young grandchildren along to help ring the bells in front of the Payson Wal-Mart.
"When I had my grandchildren with me, everybody stopped and put money in the kettle. I think it was because they're cute, but I think it also makes an adult realize that, hey, if these kids are out here doing something, then I can do something by giving. It helps adults remember the joy and true meaning of Christmas."
Jenny Wegner, head volunteer with the Payson/Pine Unit of the Salvation Army, said Payson volunteers and shoppers have been very kind this year.
"We are ringing all the way up until Dec. 24," Wegner said. "We've had a great volunteer turnout. I could still use a few volunteer bell ringers for Saturday, Dec. 24, but we've done very, very well. People have been especially generous this year with their donations and we really appreciate it."
Wegner wanted to remind people that their donations really make a difference.
"We help with gas vouchers, lodging, prescription medications, utilities assistance, auto repairs and much, much more -- because there's really no end to need. We also work very closely with the Time Out Shelter, St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank, Payson Helping Payson and referrals from other local assistance agencies in the Payson area."
Ray Kinsman is a Payson Salvation Army board member and bell ringer.
"I appreciate all these people in town who volunteer and give their time for this community. Our bell ringers are all so happy to see these cheerful people come up and make donations. Some of our bell ringers come back with stories about seeing people put $5, $10 and $20 bills in the kettles.
"They're touched by the generosity and the happiness in the faces of the people who donate. It makes them want to come back and ring the bell again. I love getting out and volunteering. I'm 81 years old and still loving it."
Rutz recommends the bell ringing experience for people of all ages.
"This is more than just something for older people. I think it's a good thing for the whole family. It helps the younger kids to know that if they don't have money to give, they can still give time."
This weekend you'll find the recognizable red kettles and volunteer bell ringers in front of Safeway and Wal-Mart. "And if we have enough volunteers we'll also be at Bashas' and possibly Walgreens," Wegner said.
The Salvation Army also started an angel tree program, hosted by National Bank of Payson.
"We actually ran out of angel tags -- that's how generous people have been. We had to start a waiting list of people who wanted to help. We assisted 35 families, which included 65 children. I still have people coming in today (Monday) -- six days before Christmas -- wanting an angel tag to gift a child."
Wegner, who works as manager of National Bank in Payson, said there are many ways to help, and there's still time.
"I get a lot of questions about the Salvation Army donation envelopes people receive in the mail with a Phoenix address. They want to know if they can drop those envelopes in the Payson kettles, and the answer is ‘yes, they can.' All those donations stay here locally."
Direct donations can be made at National Bank of Arizona, 804 S. Beeline Highway.
For more information, or to volunteer as a bell ringer this week before Christmas, call Wegner at (928) 970-0601, or Ray Kinsman at (928) 474-6577.