It’s not enough for Debi Pulver to say merry Christmas.
She has to fling her arms up in the air and proclaim it to the whole parking lot: “MERRY CHRISTMAS!”
That’s a lot of joy for a woman who has committed to ringing bells for the Salvation Army 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. five days a week in front of Hobby Lobby.
On Black Friday, Pulver was outside the store about 10 feet from the red kettle, cheerfully calling out “hellos,” “thank yous” and her trademark joyous Christmas greetings. Things have been going well for her. She’s been averaging about $63 an hour during her bell-ringing shifts, she has a wonderful boyfriend and she’ll soon been leaving Wisconsin for the balmy weather of Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Things haven’t always been this good.
Last year, her mother died. In the six years before that, her father died and her husband died.
“I’ve had seven years living with grief,” Pulver said.
After her mother died last year, Pulver was wrapping up the estate, and in order to get to certain documents, she needed to get her employee identification number. After struggling with the system over the phone, she thought she’d go directly to an IRS office. She was struggling financially, frustrated with the system and grieving.
“I had a meltdown in the IRS office,” Pulver said.
She was charged with criminal trespass and had to pay a fine and was sentenced to 25 hours of community service.
Pulver decided to ring bells for the Salvation Army in Janesville, where she didn’t know anyone.
She had so much fun ringing bells, she continued to ring after her community service was completed. Last year, she racked up 46 hours as a bell ringer.
“I had a blast,” Pulver said. “I love being around people; I love finding the Christmas spirit, and I love sharing the Christmas spirit.”
Pulver always greets people as they go into the store instead of when they come out. She doesn’t want to make anybody feel bad about not giving—or giving very little.
But people do give, and Pulver’s joy is infectious. Her greetings make people smile—and not just one of those polite smiles that look more like grimaces. Rather, people grin. Their cheeks pop, and their eyes light up. Sometimes, they even laugh a little.
It’s a good way to spread the spirit of the season, and it’s crucial for the Salvation Army and its programs. The red kettle drive is a significant part of the organization’s budget. The Salvation Army provides lunches throughout the year, presents for children in need, transitional housing for homeless adults, emergency assistance to families and a variety of other services.