The Saturday afternoon temperature reads mid-thirties, but low clouds darken the sky and wind bites my face and penetrates my jacket into my bones.  I try not to check my watch, counting the minutes left while I ring my obnoxious bell and smile, the white fur of my Santa hat framing my face.  We've just begun our duties for a Kiwanis Club service project, and I'm already tired of standing, playing nice, thanking those who push their money into the slot in the red kettle.

 

We're positioned at the entrance to K-Mart, my husband Harry and I, facing a massive parking lot watching people pour in and out of this store at Nevada and Fillmore.  Shoppers parade past determined to complete holiday tasks--young and old, black, brown and white, obese and emaciated--as the automatic doors swing open and shut.

 

Their cars tell  their story--pickup trucks, weary SUVs and sedans from the seventies and eighties.  An older Cadillac drives down the rows searching for a closer slot.  Agile cyclists lock bikes along the building, returning to balance purchases as they ride away, one with two boxes of pizza on his arm.

 

A steady stream of donors approaches our kettle, sometimes waiting in line.  With so much activity the hours pass quickly, and although well-dressed patrons ignore us, I'm surprised by how many take notice, attracted to the tinkling of our bells.  They reach across with bills, some with tens, and even a few twenties.  Those who can least afford it--toothless and shuffling--empty pockets and purses, clearing out loose change.

 

"Here.  It's the least I can do."  They smile and move on.

 

I smell tobacco mixed with perspiration and overdone cologne, and I notice that the young don't wear coats, not to mention hats and gloves.  Families with gaggles of children scurry by, and toddlers in arms catch my smile and return my wave.  Teen girls in black tights wiggle past holding hands with teen men in T-shirts.

 

I hear the click of high-heeled boots against the concrete from women rushing out carrying plastic bags bulging with toys and then pausing to deposit their money.  Cars pull up and doors open as family members load their loot into the back and then dash back to donate before speeding away.

 

Men smoke beside the tall ash cans leaving wives inside to finish shopping and they're joined by K-Mart staff, outdoors on a break.  Lingering loners, poised for action, amble across the sidewalk to pick up cigarette butts, grateful for long drags.

 

"The Salvation Army helped me."  A dark-eyed woman stuffs a five-dollar bill into the kettle and looks at me.  "I always try to help them"  I study her shabby, soiled jacket and I am touched.  I glance at the sign above the kettle, FEED, SHELTER, RESTORE.  We are There,

 

"Thank you for volunteering to do this," older men and women comment as they feed bills into the slot.  By mid-afternoon the kettle groans, weighed down with hundreds of coins, and we push the paper currency into place.

 

Eager children are the most fun, encouraged by parents to put the money in themselves.  We give them a candy cane and thank them.

 

"I love the kids," Harry laughs as a chubby-cheeked girl decked in pink reaches her mitten across to place her contribution, her hat with pointed ears and cat whiskers planted firmly on her head keeping her warm.  With her dad's permission, Harry takes her photo.

 

Since we remain busy, the hours fly by more quickly than I ever dreamed.  The sun breaks through the cloud cover.

 

Now Christmas is over and the kettles disassembled and the funds recorded.  Thank you, Colorado Springs.  I didn't realiae I'd enjoy such a worthwhile afternoon.

 

 

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