Husband and wife Cristina and Richard Reinhardsen have stood out front of Island grocery stores ringing bells with bright holiday smiles on their faces for more than 14 years.
Once the lights, colorful garlands, and delicate bows begin to fill storefront windows, and Christmas trees pop up around the Island, the Reinhardsens know it’s time to break out the kettles (donation bins) to raise money for the Martha’s Vineyard Salvation Army service unit.
You may wonder, what does it take to stand out in the cold six days a week ringing a bell for hours on end? Richard says all it takes is a lot of dedication, and the will to help people (and maybe some hand warmers and earmuffs, too).
The Salvation Army has kettles at both Cronig’s Markets, both Stop & Shops, and Mardell’s Gift Shop, along with 16 small countertop kettles situated at other Island businesses and organizations.
“I love doing this every year,” Richard said. “The great thing about the Salvation Army on the Island is that all the proceeds stay right here on-Island, in the Vineyard community.”
Richard said the money raised every year by the Salvation Army goes to helping Islanders with rental assistance, heating and electricity costs, and even some more individualized support.
The Salvation Army conducts needs assessments for each person they are hoping to assist, in order to better accommodate them.
“We look at each person individually, and focus on what will really help them, in whatever circumstances they are in,” Richard said. “We have helped people get bus passes so they can go to work.”
And because all the money donated by busy shoppers benefits Islanders in need, Richard said, he feels as though he is helping his own friends and neighbors.
“This money is staying on-Island, which is very unique, and will help a lot of people during the holidays and all year long,” Richard said.
Because Thanksgiving was late this year, Richard said, the Salvation Army lost about a week of fundraising time, which has affected its overall proceeds so far.
“Fundraising is low this time around, but our goal every year is to meet our budget, and we have pretty much made that budget every year since we started doing this,” Richard said.
And even if the Salvation Army runs out of funds to assist Island folk, Richard said, they reallocate funds from another unit. “We never turn down or refuse service to anyone. We always fill the need,” he said.
For Richard and many volunteers of the Salvation Army, the holidays aren’t the only time they are active; they also provide social work and serve as disaster relief aid.
“If we were to open up an Island homeless shelter, the Salvation Army is trained to respond and assist staff there,” Richard said. “We were at the Flatpoint Farm fire giving food and water to first responders, and we helped out during the bomb threat at the airport.”
Richard himself was on the West Tisbury fire department for 20 years, and said he was proud to help emergency personnel and first responders.
The Salvation Army also works with other safety-net organizations on the Vineyard to provide comprehensive support for those in need.
“All the social service organizations on the Island are linked together along with the Salvation Army. It’s one big team effort,” Richard said.
According to Richard, 14 other volunteers also help out behind the scenes to make the Salvation Army on-Island the benevolent organization it is. “There are many people who work hard to make this work every year, and we thank them,” Richard said.
Cristina Reinhardsen said she is out in front of Cronig’s Market in Tisbury, rain or shine, six days a week.
“If it starts to rain, I just put a plastic cover over it [the kettle] and lift it up if people want to donate,” Cristina said.
For Cristina, volunteering is a gratifying and enjoyable experience, no matter the weather or the work. “Volunteering is a lot of fun for me. I get to see all sorts of people I haven’t seen in years, plus it’s all to help people in our community,” Cristina said. “This place is very caring and supportive of one another, I see it every day.”
Sometimes, Cristina said, her children and grandchildren will visit from off-Island and ring bells with her during the holidays.
“It’s a good thing to do,” she said. “We are helping people who are not as fortunate, and that is so important, especially during this time of year.”
If you wish to donate to the Salvation Army or become a volunteer, contact Richard Reinhardsen at 774-563-9436. Cash or check donations can be sent to P.O. Box 1996, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568.