Reporting Aside

December 8, 2013

Waterville Salvation Army bell ringer knows everyone has a story

Peter Wilson has learned not to judge people who don’t put any money in his kettle.

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THANK YOU: Salvation Army volunteer Peter Wilson, right, watches as Jeff Cuares donates in Waterville earlier this week.

Staff photo by David Leaming

“I want ’em real bad, but right now I don’t technically have a girlfriend. Now I’m just trying to meet somebody.”

As he spoke, Lillian Gifford, 77, of Hartland, emerged from the store with a cart full of Christmas presents and waited by the curb for her sister to pick her up. Gifford, who was connected to a portable oxygen tank, stuffed some dollar bills into the kettle. It’s important to give, she said.

“My neighbors are younger than I am and they’re disabled,” she said. “They will hardly ever ask for any help. For Thanksgiving, they didn’t have any company and no place to go, so we fixed up a plate for them and my sister and my daughter took it over to them. When I make cookies, I send them over — or muffins. One day I took a pie over to them. They’re very nice.”

Wilson thanked Gifford for her contribution, joked around with her and waved goodbye.

He said he loves making people happy.

“It makes me happy,” he said.

The rewards he reaps from ringing the bells are plenty, he said. One of the best came last year, as he was standing in that same spot, he said. It was after a young girl came out of the store and put some money in the kettle.

“Then, she turned around and went right back in the store, and several minutes later she came out and handed me a greeting card she had bought for me. This was a little teenager. I don’t think she was more than 12 or 13. I opened it up and it said, ‘Thank you for ringing the bells.’ I couldn’t believe she did that.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 25 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at

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