Salvation Army volunteer


“When I ring the bell I sing Christmas carols the whole time.”
–Patrick Sheehan, Salvation Army volunteer

by Jessie Ammons

photograph by Jillian Clark

If you visit the Harris Teeter at Falls Pointe in North Raleigh this December, you might see – and hear – Patrick Sheehan. He’ll be ringing the bell for the Salvation Army’s annual red kettle campaign, and he’ll also be singing holiday songs. Nonstop. “The shifts are four hours this year, so I’m going to be hoarse the next day,” he says with a laugh. For the last two decades, he has sung and collected donations that the nonprofit uses to buy holiday toys for local kids in need, Angel Tree gifts, and cold-weather care packages. Sheehan is jovial about his commitment. “I’m not any kind of noble guy here. I’m just a regular guy trying to help out. Everyone’s smiling when you’re singing Christmas carols. It’s fun.”

Sheehan first rang a bell for the Salvation Army in his native Boston about 20 years ago. He signed up for it on a whim after seeing the opportunity in the local paper, and then decided to spruce up his time ringing. “I’m not a singer,” he says, but says something about the holiday spirit led him to perform carols nonetheless. “I’m atrocious!” He chuckles. “People are probably donating to make me stop singing.”

When his job as an industrial engineer brought Sheehan and his wife to Raleigh in 2001, he continued the annual red kettle volunteerism. The Sheehan children, ages 17, 16, and 10, have never known a Christmas without it. “My kids … meet me during the last 20 minutes and we sing songs together. It’s a family tradition.”

He even comes prepared with his own bell, an actual red Salvation Army one given to him last year by a local chapter staff member as a thank-you. “The real heroes are those guys who drive the (Salvation Army) vans around” to distribute kettles and bells to volunteers, Sheehan says. “They drive all over Raleigh in those vans, and they’re always so nice. Talk about patience.”

As for the songs, Sheehan has fallen into a routine over the years. He begins with kids’ favorites – Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – then does a few traditional ones. “I’ll throw some Bing Crosby in there, some White Christmas.” No matter what, “I always do The Twelve Days of Christmas, because it takes up a lot of time!”

He says that while it’s all in good fun, his singing is also effective. “Every year, there are the people who come into the grocery store and they see me singing. They leave, and they still see me singing. They’ll unload their bags into their car, and then they’ll come all the way back across the parking lot and say, ‘If you’re going to sing that long, I’ll give.’”