Bell ringer profile: El Schefers raises astounding $800,000

Nov 21, 2023

After 19 years of ringing bells and fundraising, Elmer “El” Schefers of Maple Plain, Minn., has reached an astounding milestone: $800,000 raised for The Salvation Army. 

It all started in late 2005, when El discovered that his employer would donate $500 to any charity for which he volunteered at least 40 hours. El wanted to capitalize on the opportunity before the year ended, but he couldn’t find a charity with 40 hours of volunteering available in such a short timeframe. 

“Then I called The Salvation Army about bell ringing – they said, ‘We can solve that problem for you,’” El said with a chuckle, recalling the moment he learned there are tens of thousands of hours of bell ringing available in the Twin Cities during the holidays. (Sign up to ring.)

Since then, the 82-year-old has been ringing bells at least 40 hours every Christmas season. One of his favorite places to ring is Mills Fleet Farm in Brooklyn Park, where he often sets up an ice fishing display next to his Red Kettle (pictured). When kids walk by, he gives them a fishing pole to “catch” candy in a five-gallon bucket. 

Of course, El has not raised $800,000 just by bell ringing. That accomplishment would otherwise require about 27,000 hours of ringing, given that bell ringers typically raise $30 or more per hour.

Instead, El – a retired State Farm insurance agent – has raised the bulk of that money by asking others for donations. For nearly 20 years he has made it an annual tradition to send letters to his clients, asking them to donate to The Salvation Army.   

“Before I retired, I’d get donations from about 100 of my clients every Christmas,” said El, who has also given significant donations himself. “Now that I’m retired, I still get donations from 60 to 70 former clients. I personally thank everyone who donates – whether they give $5 or $250.”

One of the main reasons El supports The Salvation Army is because the money he raises stays in the community to provide food, shelter and care for local people in need.

“This is my community, and The Salvation Army is active in my community,” El said. “This is where I live and it’s where I’ve worked – I want to help people right here.”

He is excited to raise money at the Red Kettles again this year … although he might not ring for three and four hours at a time like he used to. 

“This year I’ll probably ring for two-hour shifts – the old age is catching up with me now,” El said with a laugh. 

Sign up to ring bells

Registration is open for the 2023 bell ringing season. 

Bell ringing is a fun and easy way to make a big difference, with hundreds of Red Kettle locations throughout the Twin Cities, Greater Minnesota and North Dakota. Raise even more money by recruiting your friends, family and coworkers to join.

Thousands of volunteer bell ringers are needed. Sign up now and help The Salvation Army provide life-changing support for people and families in need.

This holiday season, The Salvation Army is calling on all of our supporters to Love Beyond. #LoveBeyond is a national Salvation Army campaign that encourages people to put love above all else, in order to show families in need that love exists beyond their most difficult situations – be it hunger, overdue bills, eviction, addiction, and other hardships. Join us by giving a donationsigning up to volunteer, or ringing bells at a Red Kettle.

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