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When One Person Donates, Others Follow

Posted December. 10, 2005 07:51,   


It is Thursday at noon, in front of Lotte Department Store in Sogong-dong, Seoul. With a red jumpsuit on and a bell in hand, this reporter volunteered one day for the Salvation Army, collecting money in the red kettle for almost six hours.

Merely standing there and constantly ringing the bell was not enough to raise funds. “What kind of catch phrase could I be using to attract people?” I thought to myself. My head went blank there for a moment.

Salvation Army Officer Hwang told me never to call out, “Help the needy neighbors,” because some citizens hearing this might complain that the Salvation Army should help them, arguing that they are “the needy neighbors” themselves.

There is no special “catch phrase” the Salvation Army uses when encouraging people to donate money. It largely varies depending on the taste and personality of each officer. “Love” was the favorite word of Officer Hwang, probably because no other word could better stimulate people’s emotions.

I gathered up my courage and picked up the microphone.

“The weather is getting colder day by day. For our needy neighbors, there is nothing more unbearable than the cold weather. Your small donation can be a big hope for them. Love not expressed is no love at all.”

I’m not sure whether it was the “love” part that I gave emphasis to, but a boy in a school uniform shyly approached the red kettle.

“All I have is 300 won. Would this be okay?”

When I told him that his donation was very precious indeed, he threw the coins into the kettle and hurriedly walked away.

A lady in fur also approached us. I wondered how much she would donate, actually with some expectation for “something large.” But the money she took out of her luxury brand purse was a disappointing 300 won. I had heard that a 50-something woman put in 100 10,000 won bills on Wednesday, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to meet such an “angel” on the day.

One’s outfit and the amount of donation have nothing to do with each other. Students and common people with thrifty-looking outfits were a lot more generous than the fancily dressed people. A middle school student hesitated in front of the kettle for a moment and then deposited candy, and people with no cash with them fumbled in their purses and put in gift certificates, phone cards, or lottery tickets. The officers typically buy the gift certificates and phone cards, and change them into cash. Lottery jackpots are also used as donations, but so far there hasn’t been any lottery ticket with the lucky number, a Salvation Army official said.

In many cases, when one person was seen donating money, others came to donate some, too. One person’s warm heart gains sympathy from others, and it spreads like a fire from person to person.

At 6:00 p.m., shortly before I ended my volunteer work that day, the several-hundred-gram bell felt a lot heavier. Officer Hwang said, “Standing all day out in the cold weather, we often get ill and have to stay in bed. Physically, it is hard work for sure, but we dare not skip one single day, when we think about the donations that can be used for the poor. It is truly rewarding, looking at the donations piling up in the kettles.”