The Bright Stuff

We'll have a blue, not-so-blue Christmas.

All is calm, all is not quite so bright.

A Drop in the Bucket

The Scrooge-like image rated coverage around the country: four grocery-store employees tackling a Salvation Army bell-ringer.

A ringer in every sense of the word.

The gong show got under way last Thursday when David Duncan, who was stationed at the Salvation Army outpost at the Safeway at Sixth and Corona, started spewing a little too much holiday cheer. "When I walked up, there was a Safeway employee with the bucket, with this little guy trailing behind him," remembers shopper Tana Wedum, who stopped in around two that afternoon. "About thirty seconds later, you heard the sound of the bucket hitting the floor and a guy yelling to the service desk, 'Call 911.'"

Wedum was standing by the service desk, where the clerk seemed frozen. "I took a couple of steps around," she reports, "saw the scuffle and told the clerk, 'No, really, call 911. Tell them two guys are fighting at the front door.'"

While the clerk was on the phone with 911, Wedum provided an eyewitness description of the fracas: "two African-American males, one in a white shirt, red tie, one dressed like a bum." The well-dressed male was the store manager, and the other? "I thought maybe he was trying to steal the bucket," Wedum says.

By the time the cops arrived, four store employees were subduing the bum, who turned out to be the Salvation Army's assigned bell-ringer. "He was a little guy, and it took four men to hold him down," Wedum marvels. "I thought he had to be on meth or crack or something."

It wasn't until she caught news reports the next day that Wedum realized that Duncan, who was on his second year as a bell-ringer and his eleventh outstanding warrant (nine for public consumption of alcohol, two for trespassing), was simply drunk as a skunk. "If drinking gives you this kind of superhuman strength," she says, "I may start drinking a bottle of Jack every night and just leave my doors unlocked."

With thousands of bell-ringers nationwide -- about 200 of them in the Denver area -- the Duncan dilemma represents just a drop in the bucket. The nonprofit faces bigger challenges this season. For example, Target, which has a longstanding no-solicitation policy, recently closed a loophole that had previously exempted the Salvation Army's ringers; Wal-Mart is taking full advantage of its competitor's move by matching donations through Christmas at over 3,600 stores.

And the Salvation Army will take all the help it can get, because so many people out there need help. "We're seeing a lot more working families," says the Army's Becky O'Guin. "They need a little extra help to get them through the first of the year." That's in addition to all of those who can't find work -- even as a bell-ringer, a job that usually involves a more careful vetting process than Duncan went through. With just a few days to go, the Denver battalion is still shy of this year's goal of $950,000; last year, bell-ringers raised $747,000 in the metro area.

But the season's over at the Sixth Avenue Safeway. When Wedum stopped by the store again Monday, there was no bucket or bell-ringer in sight. "I think they've had enough ho-ho-ho for this year," she concludes.

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