JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – Bell ringers reappear outside just about every store during the holidays trying to collect money for the Salvation Army.
This year, one bell ringer promised the Jonesboro chapter that he could raise more money than anyone else, and so far he's delivering – one Christmas carol at a time.
Timothy Torrence, a 62-year-old retiree, has turned the entrance to the Kroger on Caraway Road in Jonesboro into his stage. He keeps up a grueling performance schedule, singing six days a week for 10-hour shifts while also ringing a bell to raise money for the Salvation Army.
"Hunger has no season," Torrence said. "People are hungry every day of the year, and the Salvation Army does so much for so many people. They'll house them, get them clothing and feed them on a daily basis."
He retired this year and decided to serve as a bell ringer to fill up his free time.
"Years ago, I needed some help from the Salvation Army, and they did not deny me and they helped me," he said. "So, I appreciate it. As often as I can, I try to get out and do this."
Torrence has given back to the Salvation Army before, serving as a bell ringer in the late 1990s while he lived in Little Rock. This year marked his first time doing so in Jonesboro. He promised the local chapter that he would raise more money than anyone else, and his singing has helped him meet that goal.
"I would say Tim is one of the best bell ringers I have had in 30-something years as a Salvation Army officer," Major Eugene Gesner said.
Gesner said every night when the staff collects Torrence's kettle, the haul is usually 75 to 100 percent higher than all the others.
"We're glad to have him," Gesner said. "It will make a big difference in our season."
Torrence has noticed that people give more when he sings, particularly when he performs his favorite Christmas carol "Silent Night."
"I guess I put myself into that song more," he said. "I try ‘Jingle Bells,' ‘Joy to the World,' ‘O Come All Ye Faithful,' but it seems to me they just give more when I start singing ‘Silent Night' so I kind of sing that song the majority of the time."
The effort he puts into his singing does not go unnoticed to Kroger customers, like Angie Dickson, who says she donated more to the Salvation Army because of him.
"I usually slip a dollar in every time I'm in and out around town," Dickson explained, "but I actually came out the other day and I threw him a 20 [dollar bill]. I just thought he is so great…We need more people like him, more enthusiasm like that."
To sustain his voice after hours of performances, he tries to sing the songs in different keys, drinks a lot of coffee to coat his throat and has even taken a break from singing with his church choir.
"When I stop singing, most of the time the giving stops," he said. "I kind of stretch myself to go on and start singing more. It's a challenge at times. Sometimes I wake up in the mornings after I get off, I can't hardly talk, but after I start coming here and drink a little coffee, my voice comes back to me and I try to make it last all day."
What he loves more than anything, though, is all the attention he's getting for his voice and this cause.
"When I saw the article in the paper," Torrence said, "I said it's a good thing because I wasn't in the obituary, and I wasn't in the police beat – so that's a good day. It's a good day because I'm above ground, and the ground's not on top of me."
Torrence has had a lifelong love for singing. As a child, he performed with a children's choir in his hometown of Little Rock, which allowed him to travel to different events and places all over the country.
That experience may not have much effect on his job as a singing bell ringer now, but he says to get through the long days and sore throats, he just has to keep pushing.
"There's a song that says keep on pushin'," he said, "so I just keep on pushin', keep on truckin'."
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