Polk Countians headed to pick up groceries in Bolivar likely pass by Steve Dunlap every December. 

Dunlap, a perennial volunteer at Bolivar’s Community Outreach Ministries, marked his 19th year of ringing the Salvation Army bell in front of area grocery stores to raise funds for COM this year. 

A red kettle accompanies each bell ringer as COM works toward its goal of raising $30,000, of which 85% stays in the community to help locals with “rent, utilities, transportation and other needs that might come up,” according to the organization. 

Close friend Duane Williams introduced him to bell ringing in 2000, Dunlap said. Williams died Aug. 14 at 77. 

“I said, ‘I’m going to ring this year for Duane Williams,’” Dunlap said. “All the hours I’m going to do this year, I’m going to do for his family.”

Dunlap said he averages around 70 hours per holiday season, enough over nearly two decades to wear a groove into the handle of one of his bells. 

The bell’s clapper, though, has never needed replacing, Dunlap said. 

“I’ve never had to work on it,” he said. “Other people’s bells, they wear out.”

Dunlap said he has a second bell, which he offers to kids who put money in the kettle. 

“Some of them do. Some of them don’t,” he said. “But, the ones that do seem to enjoy it.”

COM executive director Micah Titterington said the organization is able to raise funding through volunteers like Dunlap to help around 1,000 local families each year.  

This year, the cause will also be able to take advantage of donation matching, thanks to OakStar and Bank of Bolivar, which have pledged to match donations of $50 or $100 bills or checks. 

“So when we go through each night and collect the kettles, we pull out any of the $50 or $100 bills or checks for that amount and then tally that up for them,” Titterington said. 

For those who would prefer to use a debit or credit card, Dunlap said each red kettle includes a smartphone scannable QR code that takes donors to a donation webpage, where they can give online. 

“In the past, we’ve had people come by who have said, ‘I’ve only got plastic,’” he said. 

COM still has openings for businesses or individuals to help with donation matching or bell ringing, Titterington said. To sign up, visit bolivarcom.com or call 326-2769. 

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