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Ringing in Christmas: The Red Kettle Part 2

Oda MaeI know you don’t think I’m givin’ this four million dollars to a bunch of nuns!” Oda Mae glared at Sam the ghost. It was one of the best scenes from the movie – the two nuns smiling beneficently one moment; then fainting in disbelief.

“Does anything like that ever happen in real life?” I asked Micki, “…Maybe not million dollar checks, but unusual donations like rings and things?”

“Oh yes,” she grinned. “It happens all the time. Once we got a bunch of gold Krugerrand coins, another time there was a stack of hundred dollar bills wrapped in a single dollar…and then there was the time someone gave us their teeth…”

MickiMicki Bizek is the new Salvation Army Kettle Coordinator for the City of Modesto. She moved here from Bullhead City, Arizona, in July when her husband, Kalvin, accepted the position of Overseer for the Salvation Army Homeless Shelter. Micki has been Kettle Coordinator in dozens of cities from Washington to Arizona, so she just sort of naturally fell into the job.

“The Salvation Army is in our blood,” Micki explained. “I just love, love, love our mission and Church – regardless of what city I serve.”  She inherited the vision from her mentors or “adopted parents” (Majors Dan and Ruth Birks, now retired),  and joined the organization in 1982. And she has passed it on. Her daughter and her husband (Lieutenants Joshua and Ryan Boyd) are the Corps Officers, or pastors in Anacortes, Washington.

Scheduling the Red Kettle

If you’re a regular reader of Paladini Potpie, you may remember the post I wrote a few years ago, where I talked of my own experience as a bell ringer, and shared a little of the history of the red kettle.

That article raised so many questions I decided to write a follow-up, so I called Micki and asked if I could drop by and talk with her. I thought I was getting a pretty good jump on the kettle season – after all is wasn’t even the middle of October yet! – but I found out that things were already in full swing!

slotsThere’s a white board in Micki’s office, divided into time slots for bell-ringing shifts. It’s probably 18 feet long, nearly covering her entire wall. Dates from the morning of November 14 till Christmas Eve are posted down the left side of the grid, and 35 sites in Modesto are lined up along the top. That’s a lot of slots to fill!

I saw that only a few scattered boxes had been filled in, regular people who always ring a bell at the same place. But Micki said she expects to start getting calls and filling the volunteer shifts soon.

She said she has already had over 100 applications from people who would like to ring the bell as a job for minimum wage; and that is always a good option. (I talked about that in “The Red Kettle“. But it’s Micki’s dream to man all the kettles with volunteer bell-ringers.

The red kettles do provide “Christmas for the needy”, but they are also the Salvation Army’s main fundraiser for the whole year. More volunteers mean more money for all that good work.

The Salvation Army, Modesto

Adopt a Kettle

Looking at Micki’s whiteboard, I noticed that the entire month of December was filled by Trinity United Presbyterian Church at the Hobby Lobby store. Micki explained that an organization can “adopt a kettle”. People of the organization then have the flexibility to decide among themselves how to man the kettle. They can create shorter or longer shifts that work for everyone’s convenience. An 11×17 laminated sign is set up to identify the group who is ringing the bell. Your group may adopt a site for a day, or for a few weeks. Give them a call!

Match a Kettle

Another thing I found out is that if you (or your family or organization) are just too busy to stand and ring a bell, you can call Micki (209-522-3209) and tell her you would like to “match a kettle”. In this case, you promise to match the funds collected by the kettle of your choice on the day of your choice. An 11×17 sign identifies the person or group who is matching the kettle.

So how much are we talking here?

“Match the funds gathered in a kettle? That sounds like it could be pretty dangerous,”  I thought. “How can you guess how much might be collected in any given kettle on any given day?” Micki explained that you can put a $500 cap on your match.  She said the average kettle brings in about $200.00 a day. The highest a Modesto kettle ever collected was $1,000.00.

Bell Ringing Fun

I’ve always thought it was fun to stand out there and ring the bell and talk to people all day, but Micki Bizek has plans to make bell ringing even more challenging and fun for everyone this year.

December 6 will be Mascot Day, when schools, organizations, and businesses man the kettle, with their mascot ringing the bell.  There will be a nice donated  prize for the highest yielding kettle. And it’s good advertising for your group! If you have a mascot, it’s not too late to join and get involved.

Give Micki a call – 522-3209.

December 12 will be Mayors’ Day, when mayors and their staff from Modesto and neighboring cities personally ring bells at Vintage Faire Mall and try to out-do each other, claiming the prize for the most generous city and most popular mayor.

She also hopes to start “Red Kettle Clubs” in Modesto area high schools, encouraging young people – especially those who have community service to perform – to not only ring a bell at Christmas, but get involved all year; take a tour of the homeless shelter or volunteer some time at the downtown soup line. “It seems like that would be a perfect fit,” she enthused.

So I am all set up for my usual place outside Wal Mart in mid December. I expect lots of you to stop by with dollar bills for my kettle (and maybe coffee for my tummy) I always look forward to it. Every year most frequent comments I get are about how much good this organization does! It makes me proud to be part of the team. And it’s easy to be a part of it. Why not give Micki a call and join the fun!  209-522-3209




Good Eatin’ in Texas – The Fruitcake

Driving to Fort Worth, we remembered the lunch we had packed – my sister, Monica’s, yummy southwestern quiche. But after our hilarious visit to Woody’s Smokehouse we were stuffed!  Couldn’t even think about  that quiche!

“Well, we have have to stop in Corsicana even if we’re not hungry,” Patti insisted. “You have to see this little fruitcake bakery. It’s been there since 1896.” She described a quaint, old fashioned place, with nice  ladies who give you samples of fruitcake – fruitcake that will forever change your opinion of that much maligned dessert.

“You will never think of fruitcake the same way,” Patti told us.

After some confusion we found Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, but it was not as my sister remembered it. Her face was a study in disappointment. I think she was ready to cry.  The cute old fashioned bakery had expanded to become a bright, pretty restaurant with chic little tables, and gleaming shelves with a variety of baked goods. There was even a young man behind the counter making specialty coffees and frappes. Frappes for goodness sake!

“This is just like any other fancy new restaurant,” Patti mourned. “It’s changed.”

Sadly we walked out the door, and headed toward the car.

“Hey, wait a minute!  Where you all goin’?”  We stopped and looked back. We were being pursued by a young man with a wide grin, his hands full of tissue-wrapped cookies. “You can’t leave without tasting some of my cookies!”

We stood there a little uncomfortably, and explained that we had stopped to see the quaint little bakery store Patti had visited a few years ago.  And we had wanted to try a sample of fruitcake.  But it was all new and modern…

“I can give you samples,” he insisted, holding out his hands.

“Well, it’s not that we just wanted samples,” I awkwardly tried to explain. “My sister was just telling us about this wonderful old fashioned bakery, and it’s all changed since the last time she was here…”

“Well yeah, it’s changed, but it’s better. I’m the manager here. We still got good fruitcake. You all come back in and I’ll fix you right up!”

Holding our cookies and laughing, we followed George back into the store.  “Here we go again,” Patti whispered. It seemed that we were eating our way across the state of Texas.

George introduced us to David, the frappe-maker, (who gave us a sample) and then he disappeared. He returned a moment later carrying three plates, each with samples of several kinds of fruitcake. He explained what each of them was, how it was made, and what makes it different from other fruitcakes. Barbara, one of the employees stood nearby cracking up and shaking her head, “George will fix you right up. We can give you a sample of anything you want. Everybody loves our fruitcake.”

And we did.  The only problem was keeping track of which was which; and which we would want to buy.

George asked us if we’d like a tour of the bakery part of the operation, and of course we were thrilled.  He led us into the large room with long conveyer belts. He explained that workers stand there decorating the fruitcakes. Every fruitcake has to be just so – with exactly the right number of perfectly placed cherries or pecans etc.  I wish we could have seen the lines in full production!  (I couldn’t help thinking about Lucy and Ethel…)

Fruitcakes are not being baked right now in the hot summer months, but production will begin in October and continue through January.

Thousands of fruitcakes that are shipped to more than 200 countries around the world.

In the restaurant we had seen an enlarged picture of a postcard they received in 1979 from a customer in Norway. It was addressed to “Fruitcake Texas”. Apparently, even with that minimal address, the card had reached Collin Street Bakery and the Norwegian lady was able to get the fruitcake she wanted for her grandmother in Eidsvoll.

George told us that Queen Elizabeth II is one of their best customers. She purchases one thousand of their deluxe fruitcakes every Christmas.

Princess Grace of Monaco was a good customer, and now her daughter, Caroline is carrying on the tradition.

Collin Street Bakery also provides fruitcake for Madison Square Gardens, the Hilton Hotel Chain, and many others.

With so many thousands of fruitcakes flying across the country and around the world they need to have a big oven, and George was proud to point it out to us – an oven that can bake over 4,000 fruitcakes at a time.

It made my head spin!  “I think I need a cup of coffee,” I told John and Patti as we followed George back to the main part of the store. “Does anyone feel like a cup of coffee – or even a  frappe?”

We said goodbye to George and his friendly staff, and thanked them for their hospitality. We promised to look them up on Facebook, and to tell all of our friends that you haven’t really tasted fruitcake until you have had one from Collin Street Bakery.



Sitting at my computer, I glanced out the front window just in time to see Kathy, our mail lady, stepping up onto the front porch. “Hello Simon!” She gave our door guardian a cheerful greeting and he stood to wag his tail eagerly.

Kathy had come up to the door to deliver a big package of books, which is always exciting, but I was even more excited by a small padded envelope she carried along with our “regular” mail.

The return address said “Zenni”.

I just about grabbed it out of her hands, nearly dancing with delight and excitement.

“You have to look at this with me,” I said. “I’ve been so excited for it to come!” Kathy stood there bemused but smiling as I ripped open the small package – no easy task.

Zenni is an online optical company. I had been hearing about it for more than three years, but had been dragging my feet about ordering glasses online.  It just seemed too strange and risky.

My sister, Monica, and my friend, Kristina, had done nothing but rave about Zenni products and service. So I asked my sister if she’d show me the web site and walk me through the process when she came out for our daughter, Monica’s wedding.

It was so fun and easy!  We went to where I created an account and uploaded my prescription and a picture of my face.

Then I went shopping through the hundreds and hundreds of pairs of glasses in the Zenni inventory.  Every color and style you can imagine. I clicked the “try on” button and, voilá! The glasses were on my face.  There’s a “favorites” page so I could pick a bunch of pairs and then go through them again, to make final choices.

There are so many choices, and they can make sunglasses and transition lenses and even bifocals and progressives. Each added thing adds a little to the cost, but it’s still laughably inexpensive.

(Before Zenni, my most recent pair of glasses were over $200.00)

Shipping is $4.95 for your entire order. But I wanted to be cautious with this first trial, so I only got one pair. I chose a cute funky green frame for a whopping $6.95.

After I ordered them I was on pins and needles, so eager for them to arrive!

And less than 10 days after I placed the order, here was my mail lady watching me open them. Kathy was getting kind of excited too, as she watched me pull out my new glasses.

They were so cute!

“You’re kidding!”  Kathy was amazed as I babbled about my Zenni experience. “$6.95?”

I pulled off my old glasses to try on the new pair.

Kathy was shaking her head. “And can you see with them?” she asked. “Can you can see as well with these as you can with your regular ones?”

“Yes!” I was so thrilled to tell her so. (I had been almost afraid to hope they would really work.)

Kathy was digging through her bag to find a pen and paper.  “I’ve been wanting to get another pair of glasses,” she said, explaining that she has trouble going from dark to light and her progressive lenses stay dark when she goes into apartment buildings and so on…

And since I got these and began to tell people about Zenni, a lot of other friends have said the same kind of thing.  Most people have a reason they’d like a few pairs of fun glasses, and at these prices we can have a pair to match every outfit and every mood!

You can check out Zenni’s facebook page right here!