- Associated Press - Saturday, December 24, 2016

ANDERSON, S.C. (AP) - James Cleveland White hates cold, rain-soaked December days.

Not so much for the toll they take on his body, which just turned 68. The lifelong Anderson resident, who battles diabetes and blood-clot issues, hates the impact of the December rain on the Salvation Army’s annual fund drives.

“In the rain, or freezing rain, people just don’t give as much,” White said last week. “You can’t blame them, because they’re running into the store, and then running to the car. Contributions are definitely better when the weather is warm and dry.”

White knows a little about those old Salvation Army red kettles. He’s been out in the community to welcome Christmas shoppers every year since 1995, typically ringing the bell for 40 hours a week or more.

He usually works five or six days a week, for eight hours a day. Even on days that wife Katherine tries to talk him out of it.

“He presses on, and gets up early to go ring the bell, even when he isn’t feeling good,” she said of her husband of 24 years. “It means so much to him, he’s so faithful, even on the coldest days.

“It amazes me that every year, no matter if he’s been feeling bad, he says, ‘Christmas is Coming! Praise God! It’ll soon be time to ring the bell.’”

White was in the cold last week, from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. each day for several days, in front of the Bi-Lo store on S.C. 24 in Anderson County. It’s usually past 8 p.m. by the time he gets home for dinner.

He seems to love it more every year, much the the amazement of his wife.

“He says the spirit of the Lord keeps him going,” she said. “I think he loves to meet the public, and he’s an inspiration to those who know he goes out there every day.”

Foremost in that group are Salvation Army officials, who, like Katherine, continue to be amazed at White’s dedication.

“We have to force him to take a day off,” said Salvation Army Lt. Rob Dolby. “And even when he’s been out in the cold all day, when we come to pick him up, he says, ‘Do I have to go already?’”

White volunteered for many years, but in recent years has joined the army’s paid staff, largely because of his passion for the mission.

“He would do it without pay. But we added him to the paid list because he’s on a fixed income, and this helps him provide some extras for his family at Christmas,” Dolby said.

Dolby calls White “a true foot soldier for the Salvation Army mission. From what I can tell, we’ve never had anyone in Anderson who has been ringing the ball this long. He has a fantastic heart of gold.”

White, a retired Orr Mill employee, typically explains his loyalty with a smile.

While the shifts are largely a solitary confinement, White says he communicates with Anderson shoppers in subtle, sometimes silent, ways.

“Other people keep me company,” he says about those who walk past his kettle on their way to the stores each day. “I can tell when they’re friendly.

“Some are bashful, but they make eye contact. That’s what I always try to do.”

White, nearing the end of his 22nd consecutive year as a Salvation Army bell-ringer, gets an emotional lift each time he sees a contribution - especially when it involves families.

“I like it when parents give, and their children see them,” White said. “I think it shows good stewardship and shows children how to give.”

There was a time when White couldn’t wait to hear the amount of money that had been placed in the kettle he guards. One year, while stationed in front of a Target, he raised $955 in one night. Another day, memorable because of a persistent rain, he was shocked to discover that $460 had been placed in the kettle.

The Salvation Army has since changed its policy to keep all kettle totals secret, and White agrees with the idea.

“We never know how much is in there now, and maybe that’s best. We (bell-ringers) had all started making it bragging rights,” he said.

White has a remarkable memory for details, such as those of the first day as a bell-ringer. Although he now starts the project every November, he started that first on on Dec. 5, 1995, in front of Brendle’s Department Store at 3719 Clemson Blvd.

“I was nervous that first time,” he said. “I’m immune to it now.”

Few bell-ringers are as loyal to the program as White, who has known some ringers to quit after one hour. His motivation has more to do with his faith in God than his faith in man or the kettle.

“To me, it’s a ministry within itself. I kettles are a testimony of what we should stand for, which is helping people in need,” White said. “I believe the organization is doing the will of God.

“We’re giving people help. I don’t get tired of doing that.”

___

Information from: Anderson Independent-Mail, https://www.andersonsc.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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