Bell ringer profile: Grandpa’s family tradition began 11 years ago

Dec 18, 2023

For Sam Wolff and his grandkids, ringing bells for The Salvation Army is a longstanding family tradition.  

They first started ringing 11 years ago, when Sam was a missionary in Africa. He’d come home to Minnesota for Christmas and wanted to ring bells out of appreciation for the good things he’d seen The Salvation Army do overseas. (Worldwide, The Salvation Army operates in 133 countries.)

“I admire the work of The Salvation Army,” said Sam, who spent more than three decades ministering in Kenya, Tanzania and other countries with his wife, Cindy. “I saw The Salvation Army make wheelchairs and crutches for children with polio. I’ve seen the work they do, and I wanted to support it.”

After Sam signed up for his first bell ringing shift in 2012, his oldest grandchild, Max – then about 6 years old – asked if he could join. The pair had so much fun ringing together that they signed up to ring again the following Christmas, and the one after that. 

As the years passed, more grandchildren joined the fun, and Cindy started ringing too. A tradition was born. 

Last year, Sam and Cindy rang bells at Cub in Maplewood (pictured) with five of their grandkids – including Max, who is now 17 years old. During their bell ringing shift, Cindy witnessed a special moment between Max and a passerby as temperatures plummeted to 4 below.

“I remember somebody asked Max, ‘Why do you do this?’” Cindy recalled. “Without missing a beat, Max said, ‘Because I know I’m doing something good.’ As his grandmother, that was one of the nicest things I’ve ever heard.”

Sam has also witnessed touching moments at the Red Kettles. One of his favorites occurred several years ago. 

“A man came up and donated $20 to my kettle – and you could tell he couldn’t afford it,” Sam explained. “Then he told me, ‘I was on the receiving end of this for many years.’ That almost brought tears to my eyes.”

This year, the family rang together at Lunds & Byerlys in Maplewood. They plan to ring together for many years to come. 

"Volunteer bell ringers like Sam, Cindy and their grandkids are an inspiration to the The Salvation Army and the people we serve," said Lt. Col. Randall Polsley, leader of The Salvation Army Northern Division. "We are grateful to all bell ringers for the time they spend – often in the bitter cold – helping us raise money to provide food, shelter and care for people and families who need our help."  

Sign up to ring bells

With less than a week left in the Red Kettle season, The Salvation Army still needs hundreds more local ringers to reach our goal of 7,500 ringers for the season. Sign up to ring.

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.

Sign up to ring 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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