Dan LaFleur, principal of Ernest P. Barka Elementary School, did a double take as he saw a woman crossing the Londonderry Market Basket parking lot. But the woman had seen him first and called out, “Mr. LaFleur!”
LaFleur responded, “How are you? How are the kids?”
They’re used to the ringing of school bells, not hand bells, and not on a cold December night. But administrators from School Administrative Unit (SAU) 10 were warm inside as they did their annual stint to ring bells and raise funds for the area’s needy through the Salvation Army Red Kettle campaign.
LaFleur, Assistant Superintendent MaryAnn Connors-Krikorian, and Superintendent Laura Nelson took an early evening shift in front of the door by the deli. Stamping their feet to keep warm, they rang the bells and called out “Happy Holidays” to the shoppers who passed them.
Nelson said she’s been ringing bells since she came to Derry four years ago. She doesn’t know how long the Derry tradition predates that time, but she’s rung bells for the Salvation Army in every New Hampshire town where she’s served. “I did it in Hooksett when I worked there 20 years ago,” Nelson said.
What’s the appeal? “There are so many wonderful people,” Nelson said.
Sometimes they see people they know from Derry, and at other times, strangers engage them in conversation, Nelson said. And they usually leave a little something in the iconic red kettle.
“It’s a way for us to give back,” Nelson said. “To give back to the community for all the good things they do for us. It’s people helping people.”
There is a different feeling this time of year, Nelson mused. “People are embracing this effort – it’s a sign of the times,” she said.
A well-bundled Connors-Krikorian said, “I like the giving back, the meeting people, and spreading the joy of the season. People are so friendly, and they’re genuinely happy to be doing this.”
The donors have offered to get coffee for the bell-ringers, LaFleur said.
As LaFleur turned to greet Kim Camire, one of his former school parents, Connors-Krikorian said, “We just had a family with children in Grinnell (elementary school).”
At the other end of the store, Jane Boyle, director of the DEEP (Derry Early Education Preschool) program, and Cara Kuehl, director of federal projects, rang bells and greeted shoppers.
“It is going well, “ Boyle, who has been involved with the project for four or five years, said. “The people are very receptive.” And while she was wrapped in a scarf and wore serious gloves, Boyle saw the bright side: “Last year was much colder.”
Kuehl is in her second year and said, “I like being out in the community. It’s a way of spreading the holiday.”
She also likes being out with her colleagues, Kuehl added.
They both enjoy the donors, especially children who come up with a handful of change. The parents often turn this into a teachable moment, Kuehl said, as they explain about people who don’t have as much as they do.
There’s also a connection with others who have rung the bells, either in Derry or somewhere else, Kuehl said.
And she’s still amazed when people thank them for doing it.
Boyle observed, “What goes around comes around. You never know when you’ll be on the receiving end.”
They tried to jazz their program up, synchronizing their bells for a rendition of a holiday song, but it tanked, Kuehl said, adding, “Neither of us is musical.”
A man walked by them into Market Basket and said, “I don’t have any change. I will come back.”
“Thank you,” Kuehl and Boyle said in unison.
Nelson said other staff and administrators participating in the effort included Austin Garofalo, Leslie Saucier, Chris McCallum, Chris Hunt, Bill Fox and Mitch Edwards.