MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — At this time of year, you’re sure to hear the ringing bells from the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle campaign. Volunteer bell ringers are stationed near the kettles to remind and encourage people to donate.
For Jenna Sandell, ringing that tiny bell sets the tone for the holidays. Each year, she encourages others to fill a red kettle for the Salvation Army. But this season, bell ringing isn’t just about donations.
“I’m out here to honor my dad,” Sandell said.
Peter Niemczyk passed away from Parkinson’s disease back in September, just two months before they could continue their annual tradition. Each year, Jenna would travel to her father’s home in Las Vegas to ring the red kettle bell with him.
“We rang the bell together for the better part of a decade,” Sandell said. “This is something we really bonded over.”
After he retired, Niemczyk volunteered every holiday as a way to repay the organization that helped him in his time of need.
“When my dad was young, the Salvation Army was there when his dad was overseas during World War II,” Sandell said. “They provided whatever was needed for him and his family during that time.”
After his death, Sandell never doubted her plan to continue that legacy in Minnesota.
“I decided the day he died that I would continue to ring the bell for as long as I could, just to help with the grief and to pay it forward and that kind of thing,” Sandell said.
She isn’t alone in her effort. Her cousin and husband have also picked up bells to ring in his absence.
“It’s something that was always important to him, and it will always be important to me as well,” Sandell’s cousin Michael Niemczyk said.
Sandell knew this first holiday without her father wouldn’t be easy, but by ringing in the season of giving she’s able to keep her father’s memory alive.
“He’s with me every minute,” she said. “He’s here right now, but I just have to carry on.”
Peter Niemczyk would also match the coin donations in his kettles every year. Over his time as a volunteer, he donated more than $1 million of his own money.
To learn more about the Salvation Army, click here.