Most of the shoppers coming out the exit door from Ellensburg’s Bi-Mart store on Tuesday quickly turned their heads toward the sound of Christmas carols being sung in a soft, high voice with a bit of an upbeat, Celtic lilt. 

If they weren’t smiling when they came out, the customers usually cracked a grin as they saw Salvation Army bell ringer Amelia Westbay joyfully singing carols and holiday songs.

Creating smiles makes Westbay’s day. She said she never gets tired seeing the brightened faces on busy shoppers. 

“I get to help make people’s day a little better one, too, I hope,” Westbay, 22, said. 

“Thank you, have a beautiful day,” she said as money plinked into her bright, red donation kettle. The bell she held never stopped ringing.

First-time ringer

Westbay is one of 14 bell ringers hired this year by the nonprofit Salvation Army, which uses the funds to help local residents with emergency needs. 

The bell ringers are positioned at the front of Fred Meyer, Super 1 Foods, Bi-Mart and Safeway stores.

This is Westbay’s first time working as a bell ringer, and she began ringing in the season on Nov. 16. She and her fellow ringers work different shifts, usually from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Westbay said she saw an announcement on Craigslist for bell ringers and decided to give it a try.

“I’ve had jobs in restaurants and setting up displays at the fair,” Westbay said. “And I had a job, but it ended.”

She graduated from Central Washington University in July with a bachelor’s degree in English with a specialization in writing, and said she prefers the challenge of creative writing.

That creative bent may be a clue why she added singing to her greeting of shoppers.

Keeping warm

At first she stood there smiling and ringing and getting cold.

“And just the bell ringing didn’t sound real pleasant to me.” 

She soon did little dances and jigs in place to warm up her feet. That creative touch got attention and started her thinking.

“You don’t expect people to be singing and ringing the bell at the same time,” Westbay said. “It can be pretty boring just standing and ringing and ringing and ringing. Well, I put on a happy attitude and started singing.”

She found singing also helps keep up a more creative rhythm to her bellringing.

Westbay sang “O Holy Night,” one of her favorites, as more shoppers left Bi-Mart on Tuesday. She sings from a list of 11 songs she remembers from growing up in Cowiche in the Yakima Valley and attending a church in Yakima that had lots of singing. She’s lived in Ellensburg for the last five years.

Music and singing is natural for her. Her father for a time worked in a church’s music ministry.

Westbay learned she had to pace herself in her singing for smiles; she began losing her voice after singing close to non-stop in the first weeks of work.

“As far as I can see people really like it,” she said. 

She then sang “Jingle Bells,” and there was a hint of a quavering, country western twang in her warm voice.

“I sing a little more upbeat on the slower songs,” said Westbay.

It’s her way of adding a little Christmas cheer in the community, and said it’s in line with a quote she remembers from the movie “Elf.”

“The best way to spread Christmas cheer is to sing loud and for all to hear,” recalls Westbay as she kept ringing.

A few people have stopped and asked if that was her singing or something recorded they heard as they passed by.

One man stopped by her red kettle and told her he immigrated to the United States because he wanted to become a church pastor; in his home country he could only follow in the footsteps of his father and become a candy maker.

“He said it was the Salvation Army that first helped him get settled and established when he got to the United States,” Westbay said. “He’s never forgotten it.”

The good guys

James Wichterman, a Bi-Mart customer, on Tuesday stopped at Westbay’s kettle and put in a little money.

“I always try to give some money (to the Salvation Army kettle) when I can. The people the Salvation Army serves really need the help,” said Wichterman, 85, a 12-year resident of Ellensburg. “The Salvation Army are the good guys.”

 

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