By Karim Shamsi-Basha
His name is Arthur Scott.
It should be Santa Claus.
Scott is a Salvation Army bell ringer. You’ve seen them hundreds of times, ringing those bells outside department stores during the holidays. They don’t ask for money, but just wish you a Merry Christmas as you pass by carrying bags of gifts for everyone you know.
The Salvation Army bell ringers are helping those we don’t know.
One bell ringer is quite the charmer. His bucket is filled every few hours, and people know him by name. If he had a red suit and a white beard, he would be mistaken for the man himself. He also impersonates Melvin Franklin from the Temptations with his deep voice.
“I’ve been doing this for a couple of years. I just love it,” Scott said, ringing his bell outside the Walmart Supercenter in Birmingham’s East Lake. He says lots of “hellos” and gives many hugs, along with a smile as big as it is genuine. Not many people walk by without dropping a few coins or bills in the bucket. For that, Scott is thankful.
“It gives me a joyful feeling to give back something that was given to me. I’m on disability and I do security work, but during the season I do this every day,” Scott said. “When the van comes to pick me up, I’m still ringing the bell. They say, ‘OK, Arthur, you can put the bell up,’” Scott said, letting out a big belly laugh and following it with a “Merry Christmas from the Salvation Army.”
Cheer and joy are not the only reasons Scott rings the bell eight hours a day, every day of the season.
“The Salvation Army extends their hand and helps so many people; they feed the hungry and shelter the ones who need a shelter. If I can’t give my time and help, if we can’t help each other, we’re fighting a losing cause,” Scott said.
All the Birmingham Salvation Army bell ringers do a wonderful job, but Scott is in a place by himself. Bryan Farrington, the officer in charge of the kettle locations in Birmingham, is a big fan of Scott and his singing.
“Mr. Scott never meets a stranger. He is very dependable, and is often the first to show up for work and the last to leave. He is a class act, and to top it all off he does a great impression of the Temptations’ ‘Silent Night’,” Farrington said.
While Scott rang and sang, he pointed to a young mother with a baby on her arm and began to play with the little one. Then he gave her the bell as she laughed and started ringing. He let out that loud belly laugh again.
What really motivates Scott beyond spreading joy and cheer is to communicate the true message of the season.
“The Scripture says, help your neighbor. That’s not just who lives next to you. It’s everyone, especially those who are in need. Everyone is our neighbor, and we gotta help ’em,” Scott said, as he rang the bell and began to sing “Silent Night” in that deep voice.
“Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright,” Scott sang, then stopped and yelled a “thank you and merry Christmas” to someone who dropped a couple of dollars in the bucket. Then he looked at me and rang the bell loudly.
“That ding, ding, ding gives me joy, joy, joy,” Scott said, continuing that loud belly laugh.
This Christmas, Santa Claus may be ringing a bell … and singing with a deep, Melvin Franklin voice.
For more information about the Salvation Army of Birmingham, visit www.BirminghamSalvationArmy.org.
Alabama Bright Lights captures the stories, through words, pictures and video, of some of our state’s brightest lights who are working to make Alabama an even better place to live, work and play. Award-winning journalist Karim Shamsi-Basha tells their inspiring stories. Email him comments, as well as suggestions on people to profile, at firstname.lastname@example.org.