MATTOON — Braving the cold and, in the case of one day last week, the wind, Kenneth Reagin congenially held open doors for people and wished them well for the holidays.

It seemed to fit the personality of the Mattoon man, who said he likes people. That and the desire to help an organization that helps others led him get out in the elements to do it.

Reagin began serving as a volunteer bell ringer for the local Salvation Army kettle collection program this year.

"It's for all the good the Salvation Army does for people," he said.

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Reagin and about 50 other people, including his wife Karen, are volunteering as bell ringers in the area this season to encourage donations.

The familiar sight of the ringer with a hand-held bell next to a red kettle for donations can be seen in 14 different locations in Mattoon and Charleston.

The bell ringing started in mid-November and will go to until Christmas Eve.

Standing outside the entrance to the JC Penney store at Cross County Mall in Mattoon one recent day, Reagin said he belonged to the Salvation Army when he was younger and living in California.

He said he appreciates that the organization helps during the holidays and other times of the year as well.

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The same day, Karen Reagin joined Carlie Wilson, both also first-time bell ringers, outside the entrance to the Rural King store at the mall.

She also said she decided to be a bell ringer because of the Salvation Army's help throughout the year.

"People are very generous," she said of the donations.

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Wilson said she decided to try bell ringing to "really see what the community can do." It has its challenges but it's enjoyable, she added.

"It's very cold but it's a good feeling," she said.

The start of the holiday shopping season typically results in an upswing in donations to the kettle program, which is one of the largest fundraising efforts for the organization, said Lt. Nate North with the Mattoon Salvation Army.

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"It goes right back into the community," North said of the money left in the kettles.

That includes support during the holidays as well as ongoing programs such as help with rent and utilities and the organization's after school program, he said.

Last year, the program collected about $55,000 in Mattoon and Charleston, he added. That was about $5,000 short of the goal, and $60,000 is more typical of the amount raised, he said.

North said bell ringers will be stationed at nine locations in Mattoon and five in Charleston. They're asked to do at least a three-hour shift at a time and it's "ideal" for them to be out from 11 a.m.-7 p.m., he said.

Some national companies have agreements with the Salvation Army to allow bell ringers at their locations, North also said.

Representatives with the local organization make sure that's OK with individual store managers and contact local businesses to try to secure other locations, he said.

North said more volunteers are still needed for this year's campaign. The only restriction is that volunteers younger than 16 years old be accompanied by an adult, he said.

He said anyone interested in volunteering for bell ringing can contact the local Salvation Army at 217-234-3915 or register online at www.registertoring.com.

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Dave Fopay is a reporter for the JG-TC who covers Coles County, the local court system, Charleston schools and more.

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