Shannin Ross

Shannin Ross, a Salvation Army bell ringer, dances and greets customers in front of the Golden Spring Winn Dixie.

Outside the Winn-Dixie in Golden Springs, Shannin Ross is manning her Salvation Army red kettle. But she is not standing next to her kettle.

She is standing in the parking lot, on stage in the loading zone. She waves, she dances, she spins, she hollers at people in exclamation points. She rings her bell fit to wear it out.

A man drives past and yells “Merry Christmas!” out the window. Ross yells back, “Keep that beautiful smile on your face!”

She keeps on shouting to the heavens. “We’re celebrating the Lord’s birthday coming up! Let’s give it up for the man upstairs! Let’s give it up for the children!”

A man walks past, trying his best to ignore her, but then he smirks just a little. “God bless you!” Ross hollers, before blowing him a kiss. “You got that Christmas spirit! You’re trying to hide it, but you got it!”

She pauses to catch her breath. “I love it, I really do,” she says. “People give me the energy to do this all day. Every time I get a smile, it makes me want to show out more.

“I see so many people who are not in the holiday spirit,” she adds. “But now they’re getting it.”

She turns to yell at a man crossing the parking lot.

“Merry Christmas, baby!”

•••

Salvation Army bell ringers are collecting donations through Dec. 24 at 30 locations in and around Calhoun County. “100 percent of what goes into the kettles stays here, to feed the homeless and take care of the hurting,” says Salvation Army Capt. Bert Lind.

Ross has been stationed in front of the Golden Springs Winn-Dixie most of the time.

“The Salvation Army helps so many people,” Ross says. “They’ve helped me. I’m not able to do for my children this Christmas.”

Do bell ringers get paid? Yes they do, Ross says. “But I’m not working for a paycheck. I’m doing it for the children. The paycheck does help, though.”

Ross, who turned 33 last month, is originally from New York. She has two children of her own, and is helping to raise another three. Between them, the five kids are ages 1 month to 15 years. Ross brags on her 15-year-old daughter. She’s smart. A-B honor roll smart. Her 7-year-old son goes to Salvation Army church services, might someday become a preacher. Ross smiles at the thought of having a preacher in the family.

“Some people forgot what the Christmas spirit is all about. I’m trying to show my kids it’s not just about toys.”

A car accident put her out of work a while back. “I could hardly move. I’m glad to be walking again,” she says, kicking up her feet and sliding side to side. “That’s my miracle.”

•••

Is there music playing in her head while she dances? “Some Christmas carols, some pop songs,” she says. “Moves Like Jagger” by Maroon 5 is a favorite.

Older people will dance with her, out there in the parking lot. “One of the Golden Girls out here dancing.”

Younger people, not so much.

A man walks out of the store, pushing a cart holding three cases of beer and nothing else. He sings a little disco at Ross: “Ring my beh-eh-ell, ring my bell.” He doesn’t put anything in the kettle.

•••

A young woman slips something in the bucket, then asks Ross if she can film her. It won’t be the first time the dancing bell ringer has shown up on Facebook.

Ross starts singing. She knows all the verses to “Jingle Bell Rock.” “Giddy-up, jingle horse, pick up your feet …”

She moves on to “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” An older woman, well-dressed, sings along, until she passes through the sliding doors into the grocery store.

A young man carrying a big bouquet of white hydrangeas drops something into the kettle on his way to the parking lot.

A woman in a red turtleneck follows suit. “Who in the world could turn you down?” she asks Ross with a laugh.

The woman who sang along to “Rudolph” exits the store, grocery bags on one arm, purse on the other. “Here,” she says to Ross. “Empty out my change purse. I don’t have a free hand.” As she walks to her car, she looks over her shoulder and says, “Keep on dancing.”

•••

A man in a hat that reads “Vietnam Veteran” wheels his grocery cart out the door and stops in front of Ross. She looks at him expectantly. His pockets are empty, he explains, pointing to the full cart. “That’s OK,” Ross says. “I salute you.” And she does.

“I’ll give you a hug,” the man responds. And he does.

The man wheels his cart to his car and begins loading groceries.

Ross jogs after him, and starts working alongside.

Cart emptied, the veteran gets in his car. Ross goes back to her post.

But then there’s a holler of joy. The veteran has found a couple of bills in the car, and walked back to hand them to the bell ringer.

Lisa Davis is Features Editor of the Anniston Star. Contact her at 256-235-3555 or ldavis@annistonstar.com

Features Editor Lisa Davis: 256-235-3555.

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