- Associated Press - Sunday, December 13, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Standing in front of a Bass Pro Shops store on a wet, chilly Black Friday morning, Willie Robinson sings to keep warm as much as he does to urge people to drop some cash into his red Salvation Army kettle.

In a freezing drizzle, Robinson belted out “Frosty the Snowman” and “Winter Wonderland” over and over as he rang his Salvation Army-issued bell.

“I love people and love to make people smile,” Robinson said. “I’m just a people person.”

Some shoppers exited the sporting goods store without looking at Robinson, wheeling out carts filled with fishing poles and camping gear. Others greeted him like an old friend.

“I’ve been doing this so long, people tell me they remember me from when they were little kids,” he said.

One shopper walked past Robinson, arms crossed, but returned after reaching into her wallet.

“Your singing made me turn around,” the woman said, as she stuffed a few bills into the kettle.

“God bless you. Merry Christmas,” Robinson said with a smile and a nod.

The Oklahoman (https://bit.ly/1jKLNV6 ) reports that a furniture mover by trade, Robinson has been a seasonal bell ringer with the Salvation Army off and on since 1996. ?

“He’s with us every year and he loves it and always has a good time,” said Maj. Carlyle Gargis of the Salvation Army Central Oklahoma Area Command.

Robinson is one of more than 1,000 seasonal bell ringers who will volunteer for the Salvation Army Central Oklahoma Area Command this Christmas shopping season at about 70 locations across the metro. Donations go to help support the Salvation Army’s Oklahoma City emergency shelter, as well as other local social services. The Red Kettle campaign is the nonprofit’s largest fundraiser of the year. The command hopes to bring in $450,000 in donations for Central Oklahoma this year.

It doesn’t take a lot of training to become a bell ringer, Gargis said.

“They get a little coaching, but the big things are to ring the bell, smile real pretty, say ‘God Bless You and thank you’ and have a great time doing it,” he said. “And wear comfortable shoes.”

Robinson doesn’t know if his singing helps him get more donations than other bell ringers.

“But it can’t hurt,” he said.

He tries to stick to Christmas songs - although his repertoire is admittedly small at about 10 songs.

When Robinson’s voice starts to go, as it inevitably will, he might switch to “Hello Dolly,” the jazzy, raspy Louis Armstrong rendition.

“His attitude is really an inspiration to everyone,” said Maegan Dunn, development marketing manager for the Salvation Army Central Oklahoma Area Command.

Robinson makes a lot of shoppers smile, but he is the most popular with the ladies.

One woman stopped to give Robinson a hug. As it rained on the curb outside Bass Pro Shops, a young mother lifted up her small daughter to shake Robinson’s hand.

Another woman spontaneously joined Robinson’s singing.

Over the years, Robinson has sung while ringing his bell in rain, snow and freezing winds. Robinson even stood outside for a few hours during the December 2007 ice storm that cut off power to more than 1 million people in the state.

“It was only for a little while,” Robinson said. “The Salvation Army takes good care of us and has us come in if it gets too bad.”

Salvation Army bell ringers work outside in all but the most severe winter weather because the Red Kettle campaign runs only from Black Friday through Christmas Eve and is the nonprofit’s most significant fundraiser of the year, Gargis said.

Robinson’s singing can be heard in front of various stores all over the Oklahoma City metro this holiday season.

“Some days, I might be up on Northwest Expressway and another day up in Edmond and people will stop and say, ‘Hey, I just saw you a few days ago somewhere else,’ ” he said. “I like that - I like to spread it around.”


Information from: The Oklahoman, https://www.newsok.com

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