Frank Seale Middle School student council members dispersed throughout Ellis County to ring bells and raised funds at 13 Salvation Army red kettle locations.

The Salvation Army has been short on volunteers and donations this year, but with the help of Midlothian students, the deficit is now $2,186 lower.

Lt. Robert Coriston, who runs The Salvation Army in Waxahachie, said the students at Frank Seale “answered a prayer” on Friday, Dec. 15. The students manned the kettles for about three hours in Waxahachie, Red Oak and Midlothian.

Coriston elaborated on the shortage of bell ringers this year and that donations weren’t coming in as much or as often this year. He mentioned Texans gave early this year towards disaster relief after Hurricane Harvey hit. Coriston expects kettles for Ellis County to be down $7,000 this year compared to 2016.

“I cannot thank these kids and Frank Seale Middle School enough. They didn't only ring but rang their hearts out with smiles on their faces. I am sure they spread their joy that day,” Coriston said.

This is the second year the student council has assisted with The Salvation Army's Red Kettle Campaign. For the majority of the students, it was their first time to participate, such as sixth-grader Molly Pritchard.

Molly was stationed at the Brookshire’s in Midlothian and said she saw more people donate than not.

“I’ve really enjoyed hanging out with everyone and seeing all of the people donate,” Pritchard said. “It’s the idea of helping people instead of waiting to get presents yourself.”

When walking up to the Hobby Lobby in Waxahachie, a patron would have been greeted by 18 students singing “Jingle Bells.” Another sixth-grader, Lauren Davidson, said her favorite part of the bell ringing experience was handing out the Christmas cards that the council members created.

Down the road at the JCPenny, Gretchen Hyndman also rang a Salvation Army bell for the first time. She explained why the students handed out the homemade cards, stating, “These people are giving a little something, and we are able to give a little thanks to them with the cards.”

For Hyndman, Christmas time is all about people, “Jesus, friends and family.” Locals giving donations with a smile was a present in her eyes. She added, “We are spreading the message ‘Merry Christmas’ and just to be kind, joyful and encouraging people to donate to The Salvation Army for those people in need.”

The Belk in Waxahachie had some experienced bell ringers, such as eighth-graders Ava Mikulecky and Macy Cassell. They shared how a senior woman was overcome with joy when walking into the Belk. The woman praised the students’ caroling and time spent outside ringing for donations. The girls could see they were spreading holiday cheer by the woman’s smile.

Mikulecky said, “Just seeing people’s reactions to us singing is the best. There was one old lady that started hugging all of us. She had the biggest smile and was saying, ‘I can’t believe you guys are doing this.’ Because they don’t get to see this every time they go into a store.”

Cassell said the best part of the day was having the opportunity to see who is making a difference in the local community. “You really get to help your community and make them smile and feel good about themselves when doing this,” she said.

Out of the 13 locations, the most money brought in was from in front of the Red Oak Walmart on the retail side with $249.25 —

though the group on the store's grocery side was just .45 cents behind.

The girls from the Belk location talked about the sing-off competition at the Walmart in Red Oak. Ironically, the retail side won the sing-off and also raised the most money.

Seventh-grader Lindy Gaither vouched for the retail side for their victory. With it being her second year to bell ring, she noticed a difference in the number of people shopping this year saying there were plenty more.

After the sing-off and carols, it’s the people that made this experience memorable for Gaither. “I like doing it because I like to see people knowing that they are doing it for something good and to see their face when they donate,” she said.

While at the Walmart, Red Oak police officers and firefighters made a surprise appearance, sharing with the students the importance of helping and their gratitude for donating their time to bell ring.

Red Oak firefighter Brandon Nicholes said, “It’s neat and cool to see that they have the opportunity to do such a thing and especially the school letting them out. It’s definitely for a good cause, and we were happy to be apart of it.”

At the end of the shift, the students were picked up in busloads and brought back to Frank Seale for a catered meal.

Sixth-grade English language arts and reading teacher, Jennifer Barnes, who is also the student council sponsor, said, “Giving back to our community is number one. Letting this experience first-hand show what it means to not only give but also inspire others to give simply, by them being there in the cold wind, singing and handing out cards, talking about and witnessing the generosity of others.”