Salvation Army, Goodwill team up to boost hiring of holiday bell ringers

After 20 years as a stay-at-home mom, Michelle St. Clair is ready to get back into the workforce, but that gap in her job history is an obstacle to getting hired.

She’s hoping that working as a bell ringer is a good first step.

St. Clair was among dozens of people at the Bellingham Goodwill Job Training & Education Center this past Thursday, filling out an application to ring the bell for the Salvation Army during the holiday season. The bell ringers will be outside Whatcom County stores and other shopping areas Nov. 17 through Dec. 24. The Salvation Army has hired 49 people after two hiring events and will have one more on Nov. 1.

This is the second year the Salvation Army and Goodwill have joined forces, with Goodwill providing the space for the hiring events, assistance to applicants with the paperwork and job referrals. The Salvation Army handles the hiring and plans to employ 80 bell ringers in the area. That’s up from last year’s total of 60.

St. Clair, who lives in the Kendall area, is one of the applicants who is also taking classes through Goodwill’s job training center. She’s working on getting her high school diploma, which she knows will also improve her chances of landing a job. She’s excited about the idea of meeting people as a bell ringer, seeing what it’s like from that perspective.

“It will be interesting being on the other end,” St. Clair said.

Connecting a student like St. Clair to a bell ringer job is what Goodwill was hoping would happen, said Jessica Hilburn, the Bellingham Center Manager. Not only that, Goodwill can also connect with the bell ringer applicants to offer assistance in finding other jobs.

“It’s about two nonprofits working together,” Hilburn said.

We are a signal to the community that it is Christmas time.

Salvation Army Capt. Niki Woollin.

The bell ringers are paid the state minimum wage of $11 an hour. While many are interested in the work to make extra money, it’s also good experience to add to the resume of job seekers, Hilburn said.

Salvation Army Capt. Niki Woollin said they are looking for friendly, happy people when hiring bell ringers.

“While bell ringing is our main fundraiser for the year, I believe we should also be spreading Christmas cheer,” Woollin said. “We are a signal to the community that it is Christmas time.”

BellRingers 2
Salvation Army Capt. Niki Woollin talks to applicants about working as a bell ringer during a hiring event at Goodwill on Thursday, Oct. 26, in Bellingham. Goodwill and Salvation Army are hiring about 80 people to work as bell ringers for the holiday season. Evan Abell eabell@bhamherald.com

The Bellingham Goodwill’s training and education center has also been making an impact since the organization quadrupled its space at Sunset Square in January 2014. Last year the center served 772 students, while 199 were placed into jobs.

“It (the expanded community center) has taken us in different directions,” Hilburn said, noting the center has become a community hub for job leads like WorkSource. The center also offered help in other seasonal occupations, such as training tax preparers and medical insurance enrollment.

For details about the Goodwill job training and education center, call 360-738-0483. The Salvation Army can be reached at 360-733-1410.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz