By 7 p.m., darkness has long settled in over Beaufort, but Ed Duryea leaves his car in the parking lot and heads toward the fluorescent lights glowing from Wal-Mart. He’s headed, specifically, for the red kettle set up just outside the automatic doors of the giant superstore. He’s there to relieve fellow Sea Island Rotarian Carole Ingram in ringing the bell for Salvation Army donations.
For the next hour, the sounds outside will be consistent. Car brakes squealing in the parking lot and mothers yelling at their children are mixed with the bell Duryea rings. There’s a rhythm to it, as if Duryea has a Johnny Rivers song stuck in his head that only he can hear. The bell ringing is only broken up by the things people say as they pass by the kettle.
“How you doing, man?”
“I’ll catch you on the way back out.”
“I gotta save my change for a Coke!”
Duryea greets all of those with a smile and a “Merry Christmas to you.”
Ringing the bell is something he’s done for close to 40 years.
“It’s always fun to watch parents teaching their kids the importance of helping out the less fortunate by giving them money to put in the kettle,” said Duryea. “It lifts my spirits, too.”
Almost on cue, a parent hands her child a dollar bill to put in. The child goes inside instead, mistakenly attempting to give it an employee. The mother redirects the child, and both of them share a laugh with Duryea.
For someone with Duryea’s resume – former Beaufort city manager, former general manager of Beaufort-Jasper Water Authority, officer in the Air Force Reserves, Rotary district president for Rotary, private business owner – volunteering to ring a bell is probably one of the easier jobs he’s had.
And its an easy way to raise money for a good cause. It doesn’t require any public speaking other than simple salutations and words of appreciation. No letter-signing or late night phone banks, no hosting of intimate neighborhood parties with wine and cheese and writing of checks. No funny hats or costumes.
All that’s necessary is a little time and the gift of observation.
Here’s one of Duryea’s: Those who appear to be able to afford it least give the most. Perhaps they know something the rest of us don’t. Duryea goes out of his way to thank and offer special holiday wishes to those folks.
As his shift nears its end, the temperatures have dropped while business has picked up. Plenty of folks have gone in for the newest iPhones or Nerf guns or Hatchimals. And many more men and women and children — especially children — come out with change in their hands, ready to plunk it in the bucket.
When the Salvation Army representative comes to get the kettle at the end of the night, it is just one of seven in strategic locations in Beaufort. If every person who gave money averaged a quarter as a gift, every night for a month multiplied by seven kettles, well, the math gets overwhelming. But then again, so is the need for help.
When we’re talking about providing Christmas dinners, clothing, and toys for families in need so no donation is too small.
As Duryea heads back to his car, the ringing is still probably in his ears.
Expect it to return next December, louder than ever.
Ryan Copeland is a Beaufort native. He can be reached at email@example.com.