Seventh grader brings bell ringing campaign to school

HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - You've seen and heard them at the malls, in front of businesses, even at the Biloxi Visitor's Center. For the first time in the Salvation Army's history, bell ringers are appearing at a South Mississippi school.

The ringing echoed across the courtyard at St. Patrick Catholic High School Wednesday. For the last two weeks, student council members have been taking turns ringing the bells during lunch to raise money for the Salvation Army.

"Somebody like to donate? Help a great cause!" one bell ringer shouted to passing students.

St. Patrick is the first school in South Mississippi to bring the kettle drive on campus.

"Doing it at the school, I think, is great to help other people during Christmas," said 7th Grader Mary Kate Wasilenko.

"The response, I think, is great. A lot of kids are donating more than I thought would," said 9th Grader Sofia Cooper.

The bell ringers have turned the event into a friendly competition to see who could raise the most cash.

"I'm trying to call people by name. That influences them to want to come give more," said 9th Grader J.R. Riojas.

"George! You got any extra money, George?" he shouted to a friend.

The idea for the campaign came from Windfield Swetman. The seventh grader said he was inspired by his parents, Windy and Jon'elle Swetman. The couple held a successful drive last week, raising more than $14,000 for the Salvation Army.

"Very inspired. I thought the Kettlethon went great and I just hope we can contribute just a small fraction of what they did," said Windfield.

"I'm very impressed. I think it's great to see that a student would come up with an idea and we're very encouraged the students are going above and beyond," said St. Patrick Assistant Principal Matt Buckley.

Windfield said he'll keep ringing the bell until Friday.

"I'm starting to get used to it. The first couple of days, I think I had a headache going back to class," he said.

There's no goal. To him, every coin counts.

"The true reason for the season is to give instead of receiving," said Windfield. "It's just a great feeling and joy of helping others, just knowing that you're making a difference."

The money will be turned over to the Salvation Army Friday afternoon. The funds will be used for social service programs like the food bank, homeless assistance, and purchasing Christmas gifts for needy children.

Copyright 2013 WLOX. All rights reserved