Setbacks don't slow bell ringer's quest to bring in more change for Salvation Army

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 23, 2009

By Shavonne Potts
Maybe you’ve seen Pam Austin at Kmart or Walgreens, but you’re not sure who she is.
Austin sits in her wheelchair, wrapped snug in layers of clothing, ringing the bell for the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign.
On Oct. 25, 1999, Austin had her right leg amputated because of problems from diabetes. It’s a day she remembers well. But, she doesn’t let her circumstances stop her.
“It’s your attitude. I give thanks to God for my mom, Willie Mae Watson Colson, who put that in my head,” Austin said.
Colson always told her daughter to not let anything stop her.
“If you let it stop you, then you give up,” Austin said simply.
Austin hasn’t let anything stop her. She spends sometimes 10 or 12 hours a day, rain or shine, ringing a small gold bell.
After her leg was amputated, she had months of rehabilitation and occupational therapy, all so she could walk again one day.
“The Lord told me I would walk again,” she said.
Austin spent hours learning how to walk up and down stairs.
She now wears a prosthesis, and she has no problem walking. But as a bell ringer, she is required to stand for hours.
And chronic back pain prevents her from standing for so long.
Austin credits her perserverance to her mother. “She always lifted me up. She also said to be responsible for yourself,” Austin said.
Austin said because of the lessons her mother taught her early in life, she doesn’t blame anyone for her circumstances.
Her mother made her become independent.
Austin’s advice for someone who may have had an amputation or be in a worse situation is to have faith.
“Have faith in God. Have people around you who encourage you to do it,” she said.
She is mindful of the “true meaning of Christmas,” she said.
“People celebrate for the wrong reasons. It’s about the savior and his birth,” Austin said.
The Salisbury resident has been a bell ringer since 2007.
She was sick last year and unable to do it. This year she was determined to continue what she began two years ago.
“Besides, it gets me out of the house,” she said.
She began as a bell ringer because she needed a job to help pay some expenses.
Austin now works Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
She tries to stay at the same location, usually Kmart or Walgreens.
“People like seeing a familiar face,” she said.
The Red Kettle Campaign funds the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program and supplements the agency’s budget for the year.
More than 25,000 Salvation Army volunteers go out across the country to ring bells and solicit change from holiday shoppers.
This year, the Salisbury chapter of the Salvation Army received cashless kettles that let people use a debit or credit card to make a contribution. This is the first year the cashless kettles have been installed.