Community Portrait: With bell and bucket, he does his part

Fred Relaford dons bib in all weathers
By: Story and photo Michael Kirby
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He’s at his post, five days a week in front of the Bel Air Market on Highway 49, and he always tries to stand by the same door. Dressed for winter weather, he’s wearing a yellow slicker, warm gloves and a furry Russian hat, which he switches to a Santa hat when Christmas is just one week away. Rain, wind, or clear chilly days he’s always cheerful and has something encouraging to say. Fred Relaford is a bell ringer for the Salvation Army. He’s not there because he has to be; he volunteers his time because he wants to and likes to. “It’s a bell, a bucket and a bib,” Relaford said. He looks forward to his time representing the Salvation Army and starts marking his calendar mid-year for the two-hour shifts he’ll be available for from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Relaford has volunteered with the Salvation Army as a bell ringer for four years and is an individual volunteer — not part of a service or church group. Most volunteers are service group members who take turns at the red kettle. The 73-year-old Relaford is not new to volunteering and actually seems honored to be able to serve his community. Relaford gives his time five days a week ringing his bell for the Salvation Army. He’d gladly volunteer six days a week but on Thursdays he has been a volunteer at the blood bank in North Auburn, handing out treats and orange juice to donors, for close to 17 years. Relaford also spent 15 years as volunteer docent at the Nevada City Railroad Museum. Relaford was raised in Nevada City and worked at the DeWitt State Hospital in Auburn from 1955 to 1970, leaving Auburn for another job when DeWitt closed. After his retirement, Relaford came back to Auburn in 1993 and began to volunteer. The Salvation Army Red Kettle program began in San Francisco in the late 1800s as a way to help feed the hungry during the holidays. “It’s one of our biggest fundraisers of the year”, said Salvation Army Social Services Director Michelle Fish. “Eighty-seven cents of that $1 put in the kettle goes to our social work to help with the three basic needs in life: food, shelter and clothing for the needy in our community,” Fish said. “It’s a community of volunteers coming out to help their community, and Fred is a real champion. He’s bundled up and out there in the rain, wind and storms,” she said. Relaford is one of hundreds who volunteer to ring the bell for the Salvation Army each holiday season in the Auburn area and he’s happy to do his part to help others. He likes seeing people he used to work with at the DeWitt Center and has friends that he greets each year. “One thing that impresses me is the Bel Air employees that are kind enough to bring me treats and hot coffee,” Relaford said. He also has a fond memory of one holiday season. “One little girl came up with a handful of coins and dropped them in one at a time, and after each one I said ‘thank you’ and she said, ‘You’re welcome,’” he recalled. “I don’t expect everyone to put money in the kettle, just a howdy-do will be fine,” Relaford said.