SALT LAKE CITY — Would it even be the holiday season without the sound of bells ringing outside stores, beckoning shoppers to donate to the Salvation Army?
A bell resounded Monday at a Salt Lake City Smith’s grocery store as one of hundreds of employees at Smith’s locations across seven states gathered donations at the traditional red kettles — hoping to inspire others to do the same.
The call will likely be answered in the Beehive State, as its three largest metro areas stand atop national rankings for charitable contributions and volunteerism, according to a report by Smart Asset, a financial technology company.
In the ranking that included the U.S.’s 200 largest metro areas, Provo-Orem took the top spot, followed by Ogden-Clearfield and Salt Lake City, with residents giving an average between 4.09% and 6.91% of their incomes to charity. Utah overall has a 51% volunteer rate, according to the report, making it the only state included in the report where more than half of its residents volunteer. The data came from the IRS and nationalservice.gov.
“I think it’s pretty impressive there for there to be three metro areas, and the only three in that particular state, to be at the top of a list like that, especially a list that is one that is a very nice one to be at the top of,” said AJ Smith, vice president of financial education for Smart Asset.
The study aimed to get people thinking about their financial goals, she said.
“If one of your values is to be charitable and to help others, is your money, is your time, going to those things? And all of that is a part of personal finance. And really, I think the goal for most people when it comes to personal finance: Is their money going where they value, and where they want it to go?” Smith explained.
All three of the Utah metro areas ranked in the top 10 in four out of five metrics, which included charitable contributions as a percentage of income; percentage of tax returns with charitable donations; average charitable contribution amount; volunteer rate; and hours spent per volunteer.
The Salvation Army, one of several major nonprofits operating in Utah, relies on volunteers to keep operating costs low.
“We’re always looking for volunteers. We do, in some cases, have to pay some bellringers to stand out front, which isn’t so bad in the fact that many of those people are in need of Christmas money as well, so this is a help for them. But it also cuts out on the bottom line,” said Capt. Rob Lawler with the Salvation Army. “And so ... every hour that someone volunteers is 100% profit to go back to help the community.”
The money raised during the holiday season helps fund programs throughout the year, including the organization’s food pantry, utility assistance, energy assistance and general social services programs, he said.
Aubriana Martindale, Utah spokeswoman for Smith’s, said when the store’s employees staff the kettle for one day at 142 stores, they save the Salvation Army about $100 per location, roughly $14,000 total.
She said the partnership is important to the company’s Zero Hunger Zero Waste initiative focused on eliminating food waste to help create more meals for those in need.
“We also know to close that hunger gap, we’ve got to partner with nonprofits who serve those meals and get them into clients’ hands,” Martindale said.
All of the change collected by the Salvation Army at Smith’s will go to create more meals, she said.
On the one day when store workers rang the bells, they were expected to raise more than $20,000, Martindale said. She urged others to volunteer their time as well.
“For a nonprofit, donating time is just as valuable as donating money and in-kind donations. By us being able to step up and volunteer time, and then our generous customers, making it a full circle of giving. Utah is known for that, I think, as they’re a giving community and giving back, and we’re thankful for them every year,” Martindale said.
The Salvation Army is specifically seeking help for its “Volunteer Mondays,” which take place all season, as no hired bellringers work on Mondays. But the organization also needs volunteers Tuesdays through Saturdays, according to Lawler.
“I can use all (the volunteers) I can get. We never fill, we have about 78 locations throughout the Salt Lake area, so when you multiply that times six days, eight hours a day, that number gets pretty big. So we could use as many as possible,” Lawler explained.
He said it’s an easy way to give back and provides an opportunity to connect with others. Anyone can sign up, including families and church and youth groups.
“So you may be just the person bell ringing, but you get to meet all these great people, and you get to hear all the stories of how maybe people are giving when they’ve been helped with the Salvation Army in the past,” Lawler said.
In general, Lawler said, people tend to be charitable everywhere.
However, “Utah has been a great, very supportive community. There’s great volunteers here,” he said. “So far, I’ve seen, being here just this summer ... Utahns are very generous people. Very friendly people. And if it wasn’t for volunteers and donors, I don’t think the Salvation Army would exist in Utah at all.”
To sign up to help ring the bell at a Salvation Army kettle, visit the organization’s website westernusa.salvationarmy.org/intermountain_us_west/bell-ringing-sign-up/.