With Milwaukee charities struggling to meet their donation target and more families asking for help this holiday season, Carrie Van Hoesen says she goes above and beyond the bell ringing to increase donations into her red kettle.
She rings her bell, but also greets customers with song as they enter and leave Shorewood's Pick 'n Save grocery store, catching most shopper's attention. During her 10-to-12 hour shifts, Van Hoesen sings a variety of Christmas carols, using her voice to spread good cheer and encourage good will, and only stops for her five-minute breaks, which she rarely takes.
Twenty-five-year-old Van Hoesen has been a seasonal volunteer and worker for the Salvation Army for over six years and has been singing since day one. She said she would get restless and wanted to do more than just sit there ringing her bell.
“I think it’s a good way to spread Christmas cheer. Like in the movie Elf, he says, ‘The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.' I just feel like doing a little bit extra to help bring in the money that the Salvation Army needs to help the people they need to,” Van Hoesen said.
She recently strained her vocal chords from excessive singing and was unable to "perform" for her Pick ’n Save regulars last Tuesday. So instead, she wore a blinking Rudolph nose and danced in place, keeping shoppers entertained.
“I know several people’s names and a lot of people put money in my kettle twice a day, three times a day when they’re walking around,” Van Hoesen said.
Pick ’n Save employee, Brian Lane, says that a lot of the customers enjoy Van Hoesen’s singing and upbeat personality.
“I like it," Lane said. "I think it puts people in a good mood. She sings the entire time she works and she usually starts at 9 a.m. and works all day."
Another Salvation Army volunteer commented on Van Hoesen as being very popular at the North Oakland Avenue grocer. She says that whenever she works at that location, shoppers will ask where Van Hoesen is and when she’ll be returning.
“They all love her," the volunteer said. "People always ask where she is."
Van Hoesen, a mother of three boys ranging in age from three months to four years old, says her family has become used to her love for song.
“I sing to my kids all the time," Van Hoesen said. "We have a bedtime song that I sing to my boys every night that I accidentally made up when my first one was little. And then my husband started singing with me so we sing it to them every night."
Van Hoesen says her singing while ringing the bell has inspired her husband to volunteer. He filled in one day when there was a shortage of volunteers. She says that her husband "surprised himself with his singing" and noticed a difference in peoples’ attitudes as they walked in and out of the store.
Van Hoesen’s husband is normally a stay-at-home dad because he is physically incapable of working most jobs. About nine years ago, her husband broke his neck and back, rendering him a quadriplegic. He has battled back from his injury, despite what doctors predicted.
“He’s really a walking miracle," she said. "The doctors told him he would never walk again and he’d never be able to have kids. And today he walks and we have three kids."
Although Van Hoesen’s husband isn’t given many job opportunities with his disability, the Salvation Army offered him an office job and he has been working with them most of the season.
Once the holiday season is over, Van Hoesen says she’ll start job hunting. Although she loves singing and has frequently received compliments, she doesn’t see singing as a career. She started singing in her high school choir and soon became first pick for lead solos in the school plays.
“I realized I kind of liked it," she said. "I still didn’t think I was the best at it so, of course, I haven’t pursued anything. It’s not a big deal to me, but I like to sing. I really like it."
Christmas Eve Day marks the last day Van Hoesen will ring the bell and her voice in front of Pick 'n Save, at least in 2011. She’ll bring her two older boys out to sing Christmas carols with her on Saturday.
“They might sing with me," she said. "They’ve been practicing ‘Away in a Manager.' They know about helping other people and loving people so I’m sure they’ll be involved."