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Who cheated when Curt and Susy rang the bell for the Salvation Army?

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NEW ORLEANS -  Think about how many times you've hurried into a store and ignored the Salvation Army bell ringer.

Well if the guilt hasn't gotten to you yet, think about this. The annual holiday bell-ringing is the biggest fundraiser for the Salvation Army all year, and the few dollars you might drop in one of those red kettles goes a long way.

So when the New Orleans-area Salvation Army (it covers several parishes around the city) advertised for "volunteer bell ringers," Curt Sprang and Susan Roesgen sprang into action!

Curt and Susy took turns ringing the bell in front of the Walmart on Tchoupitoulas.  You'll have to watch the story to see who raised more money.  But the need for volunteers is especially great this year.

According to Salvation Army Major Ernie Hull, bell-ringing donations keep the doors open at the Salvation Army Shelter on Claiborne Avenue, where there are beds and hot meals for 225 homeless men, women, and children every night.

The Salvation Army also offers counseling and job training for the homeless, and financial help with utility bills and rent for those who do have homes.  And, of course, toys for children at Christmas.

But this year, two problems have drastically reduced donations.

First, the Salvation Army hasn't been able to find enough volunteers to ring the bells.  There are 60 locations that will allow bell ringing but Major Hull says at least 15 of those spots are empty because there aren't enough volunteers to staff them.  Sometimes, the Salvation Army hires bell-ringers for $11 an hour.  But after an 8- hour day, that's $88 dollars that goes out of the budget- instead of coming in.

And then there's the weather.  Shoppers tend to dash in and out of stores when it's raining, and they don't linger to pull out their wallets.  Major Hull estimates the rain this month has erased at least $30,000 the Salvation Army was counting on.

But there's still time to lend a hand.  Major Hull encourages anyone who'd like to help the community to be a volunteer bell-ringer for just an hour or two.  Better yet, he hopes you'll grab a few friends or co-workers and make a day of it, each person taking a shift.  It's easy to do, if you know the simple secret.

"It's not about the bell," says Major Hull. "It's about making eye contact and saying 'Good Morning.'"