DeKALB – For 13 years, LaTonya Wilson has made it her duty to keep ringing the bell and keep smiling.
The DeKalb resident is a bell ringer for the DeKalb Salvation Army. On Wednesday, she tolled the bell for holiday cheer in front of DeKalb's Walmart Supercenter at 2300 Sycamore Road.
She started ringing the bell when she needed help herself.
“I needed a job,” she said. “I also needed some help, so I wanted to ring a bell.”
Although Wilson’s association with The Salvation Army started out of necessity – she would go for the food pantries – she’s now known throughout the area and seems to like her role as bell ringer.
She said her job is to keep a positive atmosphere and to make eye contact with all who walk past her.
“Be happy with the people,” Wilson said.
She said when she’s standing at Walmart, people ask why she isn’t here or there. One woman told Wilson she was looking for her at Jewel. Several people walked by and gave her warm hugs.
One man stayed and chatted with Wilson.
Johnny Ice said he woke up Wednesday morning to go to work at Steak and Shake. He found out he didn’t have work and so after he helped out his coworkers there for a little bit he came to Walmart.
When Ice saw Wilson, he wrapped his arms around her with a wide smile on his face.
He said he’s known Wilson for two years and he approves of her work as a bell ringer.
“She’s caring. That’s for certain,” he said.
Ice said he commends all the bell ringers for what they do and that they do it in the cold weather.
The temperature was 13 degrees just before noon Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service website.
The harsh weather didn’t deter Wilson, who donned a Chicago White Sox beanie and a thick red scarf as she stood outside ringing her bell.
“Merry Christmas!” she said cheerfully to the passersby into and out of Walmart. “Happy Holidays!”
Some gave and some didn’t late Wednesday morning, but that’s all right.
Wilson said most of the people give. Last year she was the top bell ringer in DeKalb; she estimates she raised about $9,000.
She said she loves seeing how charitable people can be.
“My favorite thing is when people put the money into the basket and are smiling and happy about doing it,” Wilson said. “It makes me feel good.”