You can hear her before you see her.Across the dark expanse of cars, carts and holiday shoppers in the King Kullen parking lot in Bridgehampton Commons at night, a warm alto voice floats through the air, singing Christmas favorites: “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “The Little Drummer Boy.”
Throughout beats the steady ring-a-ling of a Salvation Army bell.
Sharon Campbell, a 63-year-old Riverhead resident and a great-grandmother, is in her second season of bell-ringing for the organization, which describes itself as an “evangelical part of the universal Christian Church” with a mission to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. But what sets her apart from fellow bell-ringers stationed in front of stores every Christmas season is that while she rings, she sings.
“I like singing, and it attracts the people,” she explained one cool December night as she sat at her post on a wheelchair next to a bright red donation bin just outside the automatic sliding doors to King Kullen. “They like it.”
Bundled under many layers, a hood and a red Salvation Army apron, Ms. Campbell wore pajama-like pants printed with polar bears and snowflakes, boots, and two-piece purple gloves. One outer glove flap repeatedly fell to the sidewalk as she rang. No sooner was it back on her fingers than it dropped to the ground again. She kept singing.
Above her, an “absolutely no smoking” sign was posted to the brick wall.
At first, Ms. Campbell was hesitant to share her story, noting that she wasn’t really allowed to stop ringing. But she soon acknowledged that she was permitted a 15-minute break.
She is disabled, she reveals, having had a total knee replacement. Her left knee will be replaced in February, she adds, pointing. “So right now I’m just trying to do what I can with the Salvation Army. I just try not to focus on my problems and try to help other people with theirs.”
When she sings, she gazes out across the dark lot. When she finishes one song, she launches quickly into another.
She pauses only to greet shoppers—“Merry Christmas, sir! How are you?”—or to let the young ones ring her bell.
Some greet her in return. Some fold dollar bills into her red kettle. Some push right past.
“I’ve always loved people, always loved helping people,” she explains, “and I figured I wasn’t doing any good out there trying to help in the streets, because I’m getting older.”
She pauses to greet a Latino family with young children emerging from the supermarket. “Hola! ¿Cómo estás?” she calls. “Feliz Navidad.” The children smile shyly back at her.
“It’s just giving back to the community, because the Salvation Army is full of love,” she continues. “This is their way of helping others, and that’s what I want to do. I want to help others and see the smiles on the little kids’ faces.
“This money goes to a lot of people,” she explained, joyfully adding that at that moment, dozens of “red boxes” were being stuffed with toys and clothes for needy children.
“This is my way of hugging people,” she said. “I sing to them.”