Bundled against the icy cold and standing behind the Salvation Army red kettle, Chase Gregory sings as he rings in happy holiday wishes to shoppers leaving Andover’s Festival Foods.
Taking his cue from the sound of coins dropping in the bucket, Gregory (who is legally blind) expresses his gratitude. “Thank you for giving to the Salvation Army. Merry Christmas. God bless you,” he says.
Breaking into spontaneous holiday song, Gregory’s steady tenor voice dances in the frigid air, warming the hearts of those who hear him sing.
Among his repertoire: “Jingle Bells,” “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “Joy to the World” and many more.
“He’s awesome. He sings all the time,” said Angela, a Festival Foods bagger, as she helped a customer bag her groceries.
A co-worker chimed in, “I think he knows every Christmas song. And he never stops – he’s always singing,” Stacey said.
Sure enough, during his five-hour bell-ringing shift outside Andover’s Festival Foods Friday, Gregory sang an ongoing stream of happy holiday songs.
“I’ve never had so many phone calls – from the public, the store manager, everyone. They call and tell me how much they enjoy hearing him,” said Ron Buechner, Gregory’s Salvation Army Harvest Corps of Coon Rapids bell ringer supervisor.
Festival Foods store manager Chris Haglund readily testifies to that.
“He’s such a joy to have out there. He has not stopped singing, he talks to everybody. He’s enjoying it and everyone can tell,” Haglund said.
As a client of Opportunity Partners’ employment program, Gregory is paid for his hours spent bell ringing. But the paycheck really isn’t what motivates him.
“It’s really fun and you get to interact with a lot of people,” Gregory said. “And I just like to wish people a Merry Christmas.”
And he does it in harmony with a ring and a song.
Salvation Army-Opportunity Partners partnership
The relationship between the Salvation Army Harvest Corps in Coon Rapids and Opportunity Partners began several years ago when Opportunity Partners clients began volunteering at the Salvation Army, cleaning offices and performing other tasks, said Opportunity Partners Communications Director Julie Peters.
The partnership enabled Opportunity Partners volunteers to polish their cleaning techniques on the job, and the Salvation Army benefited from their hard work.
Later, when the Salvation Army was looking to hire a number of bell ringers to supplement their volunteer crews, it turned to Opportunity Partners.
According to Peters, seven individuals from Opportunity Partners’ Anoka employment program have been bell ringers this holiday season and several more have volunteered their time.
As for Buechner’s take on the partnership, “It’s the best decision I’ve ever made,” he said about hiring Opportunity Partners employees to ring the bells.
“These guys are just fantastic,” Buechner said.
Peters calls the employer-Opportunity Partners partnership a win-win situation.
“It’s a great opportunity for our folks to prove they can work – and they do good, quality work, so the companies, the organizations are very happy,” Peters said.
“We need more companies and organizations who are looking for good workers like Chase. We’ve got so many of them and they are eager to work. We just need to make those connections,” Peters said.
To watch Chase in action ringing in the holiday cheer at Festival Foods, check out the video (provided by Opportunity Partners) at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5o7SnerZsE.
To learn more about Opportunity Partners, visit www.OpportunityPartners.org, stop by the local office (located at 3351 Coon Rapids Blvd. N.W.) or call them at 763-792-4581.
Sue Austreng is at [email protected]