At 92 years old, Catherine Wohlers may be the oldest soldier in all the land.
Her weapons of choice: A bucket and a bell.
Her cause: Feed, clothe and render assistance to those in need.
Wohlers is among the countless volunteers positioned on the front lines every year at about this time, braving the elements to advance their cause — one penny, one nickel or one quarter at a time.
“I like to try to help others,” Wohlers said. “The Salvation Army is a wonderful organization.”
If you’ve stopped by a pharmacy or local grocery store in the Register’s four-county coverage area in recent weeks, you’ve certainly seen them, even if you pretended you didn’t.
The Salvation Army’s bell ringers know the jingle in your pocket — loose change, and maybe a buck or two here and there — can go a long way in silencing the rumbles of hungry bellies, or putting a smile on the face of a child who, without help from the nonprofit, might not see a single new toy on Christmas Day.
“We make sure every child and family in Ottawa County gets toys and food,” said Maureen Saponari, director of that county’s Salvation Army branch. “It’s a tight schedule and we have it down to a science.”
The efforts of bell ringers outside retail shops and grocery stores account for much of the Salvation Army’s success each year. Of every dollar the nonprofit collects, 82 cents pours into its many missions — food, housing, clothing, social programs and such for people who are less privileged. The organization has 7,546 locations in the U.S.
This is Wohlers’ second year volunteering for The Salvation Army.
Her hands seem brittle, but she uses them to vigorously ring the iconic bells as she quietly seeks donations from passersby.
On her birthday, Nov. 30, she was found manning the kettle outside the Oak Harbor Community Market.
The Ottawa County native grew up on an 80-acre farm in Oak Harbor. In her living room these days hangs a 19th-century family photography and a photo of her father’s Model T.
It’s quite obvious Wohlers admires historical things, which is why she participates in the longstanding tradition of bell-ringing.
Saponari depends on people like Wohlers to see the organization’s goals through to the end.
“We are a fine-tuned group here,” Saponari said. “It’s quite the process, seven days a week till Christmas Eve.”
Each of Saponari’s volunteers work two-hour shifts, collectively logging about 1,700 hours of bell-ringing when all is said and done. It’s not easy to find volunteers, but somehow it always seems to work.
“It’s an ongoing process,” Saponari said. “We constantly struggle to get them filled.”
Her goal this year is to raise $64,000 from kettle collections at seven locations.
“We usually surpass it, but I’m a little skeptical this year — we’re down days because Thanksgiving was later this year,” she said.
The battle is similar elsewhere.
In Fremont, Salvation Army bell-ringer campaign coordinator Bill Taylor always tries to encourage new people to sign up.
“Some people volunteer more than once, but we like to get a variety of faces to touch more people,” Taylor said. “We’re really looking for some volunteers. We’ve been very fortunate in that we have a lot of people who sign up that are visible in the community, and people can associate with them.”
Taylor’s goal: $25,000.
“What we raise is distributed locally through Share and Care,” Taylor said. “Smaller communities have organizations that they work through. It will go toward helping with groceries, prescriptions, utility bills, things of that nature.”
At the Salvation Army in Bellevue, the kettle collection is the largest fundraiser for the year. This year, the branch is also offering organizations a chance to sponsor a kettle for $100, $250 or $500. With each sponsorship, the organization is recognized with a sign while donations are collected.
“All the money stays in Bellevue for clients, for anything from emergency housing to utility bills when they get behind, sometimes food,” said Sharon Hill, volunteer coordinator for the Bellevue Salvation Army. “When the tornado went through, the Salvation Army was very good to Bellevue. Sandusky served meals and a canteen truck came from Toledo and went around to neighborhoods.”
Taylor depends on eight churches, 10 school or community organizations and 40 individuals to cover 288 hours of bell ringing.
Lenny Wacenske, major at the Salvation Army in Sandusky, recognized the important of the kettle drive — but he also pointed out that people are in need every day of the year.
“It’s important not only to me, but to the Salvation Army. This is our largest fundraiser,” Wacenske said of the kettles. “We want to help people in need, not only during Christmas, but throughout the whole year.
“There’s a statement of that: ‘Need knows no season,’” he said. “You’re not just hungry at Christmas. It happens all year round. We raise funds and give toys and food now so we can help families and children at Christmas and throughout the rest of the year, if a need in their life comes up. We just try to take care of them.”
Want to go?
What: Ottawa County Salvation Army charity auction
Where: Mon Ami Winery, 3845 E. Wine Cellar Road, Port Clinton
When: 2 p.m. Sunday
• Auction: The silent auction is at 2 p.m. and the live auction is at 4 p.m. Countless donated items will be auctioned off, including Browns and Indians memorabilia, sports items, event tickets, musical instruments, and much more. The Ottawa County Salvation Army uses proceeds from the auction to purchase toys for children in the county. Last year, the nonprofit raised $18,000 at the auction. This is the 10th year Mon Ami has donated its winery for this event.
• Dec. 18 Toy Distribution: The Ottawa County Salvation Army will also host a toy distribution at 3848 Harbor Light Landing in Port Clinton. Property owner Ralph Ruta donated his facility for the event. “We give away over 6,000 toys at Christmastime,” said Maureen Saponari, director of the Ottawa County branch. “The applications just keep coming in.”
• When: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily till Christmas Eve
• Where: Port Clinton Walmart; Port Clinton Krogers; Community Market in Port Clinton; Community Market in Oak Harbor; Bassett’s in Catawba; Miller’s Market in Genoa.
• Volunteer: Call 419-732-2769.
• When: 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturdays, also Dec. 23-24
• Where: Walmart and Kroger
• Volunteer: Call Bill Taylor at 419-307-1074 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
• When: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturday, then Dec. 23-24
• Where: Bassett’s and Hogue’s, also buckets at cash registers at Ace Hardware and Track’s End
• Volunteer: Call Sharon Hill at 419-483-3677
• When and where:10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 7 ( County Sheriff) at Perkins Township Walmart; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Dec. 13 (Kroger employees) at Kroger; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Dec 14 (Lions Club of Sandusky) at Kroger; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Dec. 15 (National Exchange Club of Sandusky) at Kroger.
• Volunteer: Call Lenny Wacenske at 419-626-3862
•Volunteer: Call Lt. Denise Martin at 419-668-4090.
The Angel Tree program featured angels on a tree, with each one bearing a child’s name and what they want for Christmas. You can buy the gift and return it by Dec. 11 to one of the following participating stores, which are all in Sandusky unless noted otherwise:
• Fifth Third Bank: 2211 Hayes Ave., 4000 Milan Road
• Arthur’s Shoe Tree: 1144 Cleveland Road
• Citizens Bank: 100 E. Water St., 702 W. Perkins Ave., 1907 E. Perkins Ave., 208 S. Washington St., Castalia
• House of Donuts: 2236 Karl Ann Drive
• Home Savings & Loan Co.: 4112 Milan Road
• Sandusky Mall
• Payless ShoeSource in Sandusky Mall
• Interstate All Battery Center: 4816 Milan Road
• The Lunch Box: 154 Columbus Ave.
• Sunsations Tanning Salon & Spa: 113 Main St., Castalia
• U.S. Bank: 1028 Cleveland Road and 205 W. Perkins Ave.
• Village Pizza, 510 E. Lucas St., Castalia